Detanee abuse (pictures not included)

As a result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Defense Department agreed last month to release images of American military personnel abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. The images date from 2001 through 2005.

A couple weeks later, the Obama administration reversed that decision, suggesting the issue be returned to court.

"The most direct consequence of releasing [the images], I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse." President Obama, May 13, 2009

Even if you accept the president's premise, he seems to greatly discounted the value of an informed public. Frankly, the temperature of future investigations concerns me less than the intensity of future oversight.

When we peacefully transfer power from one party to another, large portions of the governing infrastructure remain in place, including much of the intelligence and military apparatus. In fact, a new president relies on these individuals to provide the information necessary to do his/her job. In this instance, the White House seems to have sided with the people they work with, rather than the people they work for.

I'm interested in seeing these images released because the public outcry could lead to systematic reform, rather than punishment for a few low-level individuals.

Our recent history shows we falter as a country, morally and functionally, when the oversight of our publicly-supervised institutions is inadequate. That's been the case with the financial crisis, and the documentary below shows that even well-placed internal resistance couldn't stop abhorrent practices.

The film's blurb: Torturing Democracy (2008) relies on the documentary record to connect the dots in an investigation of harsh interrogations of prisoners in U.S. custody - and points straight to the top. Timely and powerful, at its heart the film is about the rule of law - and how the government pushed it aside despite the fierce resistance of many on the inside.

The Torturing Democracy website, a collaboration with the National Security Archive at George Washington University, includes a timeline of key events; extended interviews; and the memos, legal opinions and other documents highlighted in the film.

Filip Spagnoli defuses the 'ticking bomb' defense of torture here.

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