Revolution #165, May 24, 2009

Obama Censors Photos of U.S. Torture:

The Truth They Don’t Want YOU to Know

On Wednesday, May 13, Barack Obama reversed his previously announced position, and said that he would move to block the release of some 2000 photos documenting U.S. military personnel torturing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the blocked photos are of U.S. prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and include depictions of “Abu Ghraib-style” torture, along with photos taken by military criminal investigators—in some cases supposedly documenting allegations of abuse, as well as autopsy photos of prisoners who were killed while in custody.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU—the group that sued to make the photos public—said the volume of photos shows that “It is no longer tenable to blame abuse on a few bad apples. These were policies set at the highest levels.”

Obama said he would not release the photos because “the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

What does it mean to cover up evidence of horrific war crimes because knowledge of those crimes would “inflame anti-American opinion?” And what is the responsibility of people living in the United States, right now, when great crimes, committed in their name, are being covered up?

Obama’s Complicity in Covering Up War Crimes

Recently released torture memos from White House lawyers documented how torture was officially endorsed by the White House (see "The Torture Memos …And the Need for Justice", by Alan Goodman, Revolution, May 17, 2009).  Now, the scale and breadth of U.S. torture revealed by the existence of over 2000 photos threatens to expose even more deeply how profoundly embedded torture has been in the U.S. so-called “war on terror.”

The existence of over 2000 such photos gives further lie to the claim that torture was used only in extreme circumstances—in so-called “ticking time bomb” scenarios. That rationale, that torture was used only to extract information that would save American lives, even if it were true, would still be immoral.

Where does this so-called “ticking time bomb” logic lead? The logic of that logic is that there is nothing too horrific, too sadistic, too inhuman, when it comes to “saving American lives.” One of the authors of the White House torture memos, John Yoo, in fact, is on record saying that it might be acceptable for the president to authorize applying electrical shocks to the testicles of an innocent child of someone being “interrogated.” (See "The Torture Memos…And the Need for Justice," Revolution #164, May 17, 2009.)

As we wrote last week in Revolution, “Let’s make it plain: torture is, literally and in essence, a crime against humanity.  Like rape, it is a systematic attempt to violently degrade people and rob them of their very humanity.  Any government which not only tolerates such things but which, from its highest offices, justifies and insists on them as “instruments of policy”…any government which does not, once this has been exposed, prosecute the perpetrators but instead provides them in advance with immunity...reveals itself as a system that requires such crimes, and such criminals, for its functioning.  Any people that does not resist such crimes, and demand prosecution of the torturers and, even more so, those who formulated the policy at the highest levels, reveals themselves to be complicit in those crimes. And in passively allowing the humanity of others to be degraded and attacked, they lose their own.” ("The Torture Memos …And the Need for Justice," Revolution #164, May 17, 2009.)

The torture being covered up by the suppression of these 2000 plus photos has been refined and perfected over decades by the U.S., including through testing techniques on U.S. troops. A careful reading of the recently released torture memos points to a U.S. torture doctrine that emphasizes psychological torture, combined with nazi-like systematically administered physical brutality. Many (but not all) of the victims of U.S. torture live, but are left traumatized and devastated, as a message to the world that those who rule this country will not hesitate to apply sadistic, depraved brutality against anyone who gets in their way, or even to apply such torture at random as a way of instilling generalized terror.

In understanding the adoption of systemic torture as a central element of U.S. military doctrine, it is important to emphasize that the development and refinement of horrific torture has been a product of the U.S. government, including through the “SERE” program which was ostensibly a program to prepare U.S. troops for torture, but in fact served as a testing ground for torture techniques. These torture techniques were not—as has been falsely claimed—copied from Communist China’s treatment of prisoners in the Korean War. (For a carefully documented refutation of this charge, and a revealing examination of how the Chinese communists did deal with captured U.S. POWs in Korea, see "The Truth About How Chinese Communists Treated Korean War POWs," by Li Onesto at

and Even Enhancing Bush’s Doctrines

Under the Bush regime, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to force the release of these 2000 plus photos from Abu Ghraib and a half-dozen other U.S. prisons. The Bush “Justice” Department opposed releasing the photos in court, arguing that they posed a danger to the safety of U.S. troops (the same argument Obama has now adopted).

Courts have ruled in favor of the ACLU’s lawsuit, and earlier this month the Obama administration announced it would not appeal a standing court order to release the photos on May 28. Now, however, reportedly on “advice from the generals,” Obama announced that the U.S. Department of “Justice” would appeal the court order to release the photos, using the very same arguments.

Over the past couple of weeks Obama has been embracing Bush’s positions on very central civil liberties and torture legal cases at a dizzying pace. Early in his presidency, Obama’s Justice Department moved to block a lawsuit by five men who were kidnapped by the U.S., and “renditioned”—flown to prisons in other countries for the express purpose of torturing them (the lawsuit is Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen—Jeppesen being the Boeing Airlines subsidiary that transported the prisoners to be tortured). On May 11, the Washington Times reported that the Obama administration was renewing threats to curtail intelligence cooperation with the UK if British courts allowed evidence of U.S. torture against a British citizen—a former detainee at Guantanamo (“Obama threatens to limit U.S. intel with Brits,” by Eli Lake, May 12, 2009). And Obama recently announced he was reviving the use of the infamous “Military Commissions” to try detainees. On the campaign trail, Obama had promised to “reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees.” But on May 15, just a few months into his presidency, Obama reversed that position, saying that “Military commissions… are appropriate for trying enemies who violate the laws of war, provided that they are properly structured and administered.” In each of these critical cases, Obama has adopted the entire logic and arguments of the Bush regime.

Imperialist Morality vs. the Interests of Humanity

How will people around the world react to new revelations of an even greater scope of U.S. torture than has already been documented? Or, for that matter, how will people around the world react to new cover-ups of such torture?

That actually depends, to a great degree, on you.

If you voted for Obama because you thought he was going to end torture, and you have been increasingly disturbed by his actions, you have to ask yourself at what point do you say … ENOUGH! If you got behind Barack Obama because you were horrified and furious at the direction this society has taken over the past eight years of Bush… If you put your deep felt desires for change in the hope that Obama will take society in a different direction… If you thought the election of Obama would make you “feel good about America…” You have to ask yourself: at what point are you going to take a look around and confront what is really going on? At what point do you re-anchor yourself in a basic moral stand that the lives of Americans are not more precious than the lives of people around the world.

All too many people are making excuses for Obama. Some point to the extraordinary post-election rampage by Dick Cheney, who has been making outrageous open defenses of torture and very thinly veiled threats against Obama. Let’s be clear: this is a battle taking place between different factions of the imperialist ruling class. Cheney is the point man for the neo-conservative faction, which essentially brought forward the “war on terror” as a vehicle through which to very aggressively pursue U.S. imperialist interests in a world that is going through an uncertain transition with potential for great upheaval.  These policies have in the main been adopted by Obama, even as he has modified some of them in certain respects. 

Cheney is making clear to Obama that if there is even a hint of a move to prosecute anyone in the Bush administration, the army or the CIA for war crimes, the neo-conservatives will fight back very hard and bring their still quite considerable power to bear to oppose it.  At the same time, he is, to a certain extent, providing an excuse for Obama to claim to those who originally voted for him as the “anti-Bush” that “he’s got to do this” (that is, maintain Bush’s policies) “to keep the dogs quiet”—and in so doing seduce these people into approving things that they correctly saw as being criminal under Bush.  And Cheney is also positioning the forces he represents to be able to take advantage of any possible attack on the U.S. in the future, to make a comeback.  But how can any of THIS justify maintaining and, almost worse, giving legitimacy to the very horrors that Cheney so unabashedly defends?

In this situation, what people in the U.S. do now matters a great deal. . It is time for people to break out of, and start thinking beyond the framework being set by the Cheneys and Obamas, and start thinking, and acting, from the interests of humanity. If people around the world see complacency, passivity, and acquiescence in the U.S., that will fuel the synergy between U.S. imperialism and reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces, where the actions of the U.S. create conditions that drive people of the Middle East and countries with large Muslim populations into the arms of Jihad.

Hundreds of thousands of people are truly horrified by what is revealed in the torture memos, and being covered up in these 2000 plus censored photos.

If people around the world see that large numbers of people in this country are outraged, and not just feeling angst but getting out into the streets to protest, a different dynamic can emerge.

All Out on May 28!

On May 28, the day the photos were to have been released, World Can’t Wait has called for nationwide protests and political actions to demand “Torture is a War Crime! PROSECUTE!” Those protests were called before Obama reversed his position and moved to block the release of the photos. The fact that the imperialist system’s president has reversed his position adds even more urgency and significance to these protests.

Truth and justice demand that these photos be released, all of them, now! And that the torturers, all the way to the top of the chain of command, be brought to justice.

We strongly encourage all our readers to visit, and join in with, and organize protests on May 28.

As we wrote last week in response to the release of memos from White House lawyers authorizing torture: “If those who set up, legitimized, and endorsed open torture simply walk away, if those who concocted the legal ‘golden shield’ for the torture go free, and if those who ‘almost choreographed’ the torture go free, that is nothing other than a statement that torturers need not look over their shoulders in the future. Regardless of the honeyed promises of the representative of the imperialist system, Obama, it would leave intact the ‘right’ of the U.S. imperialists to order torture.

“And on the other hand, if people DO resist, if they DO demand that the criminals be prosecuted and wage a serious political struggle to make that happen, it can be the beginning of a struggle that can, among other things, lead to the beginnings and possibility of real  justice—and not some phony, feel-good, ‘let’s-forget-about-the-past-and-move-on’ so-called redemption and/or ‘reconciliation’ that only ultimately enables still more, and still worse, crimes by the bloody criminal enterprise known as America.”

And such an outpouring would give heart to, and inspire, people around the world who long to see another way emerge, in opposition to both U.S. imperialism, and Islamic fundamentalism.

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