I see that Barack Obama is going to try to stop the ACLU from publicizing more photos from Abu Ghraib.
Good for him. No useful purpose would be served by the propagation of new images of a terrible problem that has been fully explored and addressed and is a problem no longer. But such images, which would add nothing to our useful knowledge, could easily lead to more American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know how inflammatory images, from cartoons to such photos as these, can be in those parts of the world where our country is trying so hard to foster peace and stability, with American lives on the line.
Abu Ghraib was awful, and a tremendous setback to U.S. interests. We know that; and we’ve addressed it. No one in this country could possibly doubt that such treatment of prisoners is inconsistent with our values. Why do the whole thing over again, with the fresh repercussions that would invevitably engender?
This is one of those cases where the public’s “right to know” — which folks in my longtime profession can get really, really self-righteous about (usually, but not always, justifiably) — ring awful hollow against the near-certainty that it would lead to more bloodshed.
It’s things like this that tend to lower my opinion of the ACLU (even as my respect for the president grows). I know they can do some good — and I was really pleased by the very smart, sensible op-ed piece we had from the ACLU’s local honcho Victoria Middleton several months ago; she nailed it on our pound-foolish approach to crime in South Carolina.
But the kind of legalistic pedantry-over-real-life (and death) that I see in this matter of the prisoner photos is really disturbing.
I don’t like ever to speak against openness and disclosure — I prefer to PUSH for those values, and almost always do so. But asserting those laudable values over American lives, in a case where nothing new would be gained, is one of those cases that illustrate the fact that extremism even in the service of a virtue CAN be a vice.