2011-05-06 Decision to Not Release bin Laden Death Photos Rests on Same Dubious Logic Used Against WikiLeaks

I recently wrote a diary that I posted on DailyKos, which led to the banning of a DailyKos user and provoked suggestions that I might be a Republican. It had people calling me “asshole” and many were grading my post on a high school grading scale. The diary called for the release of bin Laden's death photos. (I posted it here at WL Central.)

It really doesn’t matter to me if you call me names or if you grade my post. If it promotes debate, fine. Do as you please. But, given the comments and suggestions that I now have no career unless I go work for Fox News, I feel obligated to further explain my position on releasing the bin Laden death photos. I also feel compelled to respond to many of the smartly argued and not so smartly argued comments that were posted in response.

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I view everything surrounding the killing of bin Laden to be necessary to deciding whether to release the photos or not. In that sense, President Obama’s good decision to not give a speech at Ground Zero in New York yesterday should help inform the debate. What he did by not giving a speech was what someone like former President George W. Bush would not have had the courage to do: he chose, in that moment, to not exploit 9/11 and use it to further advance the national security agenda of America.

At the core of this discussion are central questions, questions I have considered frequently in my blogging and coverage of the events and stories surrounding WikiLeaks over the past year. The issue of releasing the photos, went stripped down to an objective question stripped of emotion is the following: When does government get to decide to keep something classified? And when does the public get to know information that government may want to keep classified? Does the public get to influence such a debate over information or should citizens simply heed the decisions of the Executive Branch or any other agency that chooses to prevent the release of information?

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the release of photos (and video of bin Laden's burial at sea) has been filed by the Associated Press. Contrary to what Daily Kos user doc2 wrote, I do not think “only the president can make the call” and that “he did it and it is now behind us” so I should not debate this moment when many are debating an issue of secrecy and transparency. I am a citizen, first and foremost, someone with an opinion and right to express it. DailyKos graciously gives users like myself a platform to openly discuss in a community the most pressing issues of the day and I am not just going to defer to the president. Deference gets us torture, wars, banker bailouts, a renewal of the PATRIOT Act, the continued operation of Guantnamo Bay, a health reform bill without a public option that is far from single payer healthcare, etc.

I intend to robustly debate issues with other people and have no problem with our debate becoming a dull roar that maybe is heard by the powers that be. It is my hope that the powers that be hear our debate and it has some influence over them and perhaps is more influential than the K Street lobbyists, the bankers on Wall Street, the executives of Boeing or Lockheed Martin or the head of Massey Energy. It is my hope that our debate can combine with the human rights and public interest groups that are advocating for causes. This is how Americans can shift the debate in a direction that is less right wing, less corporate and much more supportive of democratic society.

Comments appeared to specifically take issue with this note: “By not releasing the photos, we are letting the terrorists win--just as we have been letting them win since 9/11. We are adapting our behavior and applying more restraints to freedom and transparency. Doing this likely empowers terrorists.”

The thrust of this comment could be understood by clicking on a link to a post on the libertarian magazine Reason’s website. It listed out the ways this nation has adapted itself since 9/11, all adaptations that I think many users likely opposed when Bush was president.

* We’ve sent terrorist suspects to “black sites” to be detained without trial and tortured.
* We’ve turned terrorist suspects over to other regimes, knowing that they’d be tortured.
* In those cases when our government later learned it got the wrong guy, federal officials not only refused to apologize or compensate him, they went to court to argue he should be barred from using our courts to seek justice, and that the details of his abduction, torture, and detainment should be kept secret.
* We’ve abducted and imprisoned dozens, perhaps hundreds of men in Guantanamo who turned out to have been innocent. Again, the government felt no obligation to do right by them.
* The government launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign implying that people who smoke marijuana are implicit in the murder of nearly 3,000 of their fellow citizens.
* The government illegally spied and eavesdropped on thousands of American citizens.
* Presidents from both of the two major political parties have claimed the power to detain suspected terrorists and hold them indefinitely without trial, based solely on the president’s designation of them as an “enemy combatant,” essentially making the president prosecutor, judge, and jury. (I’d also argue that the treatment of someone like Bradley Manning wouldn’t have been tolerated before September 11.)
* The current president has also claimed the power to execute U.S. citizens, off the battlefield, without a trial, and to prevent anyone from knowing about it after the fact.
* The Congress approved, the president signed, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a broadly written law making it a crime to advocate for any organization the government deems sympathetic to terrorism. This includes challenging the “terrorist” designation in the first place.
* Flying in America now means enduring a humiliating and hassling ritual that does little if anything to actually make flying any safer. Every time the government fails to catch an attempt at terrorism, it punishes the public for its failure by adding to the ritual.
* American Muslims, a heartening story of success and assimilation, are now harassed and denigrated for merely trying to build houses of worship.
* Without a warrant, the government can search and seize indefinitely the laptops and other personal electronic devices of anyone entering the country.
* The Department of Homeland Security now gives terrorism-fighting grants for local police departments across the country to purchase military equipment, such as armored personnel carriers, which is then used against U.S. citizens, mostly to serve drug warrants.

I call upon people with comments to address what I am arguing based on those listed bullet points.

Comments also indicated, rightfully, that not all in the Middle East are terrorists. That is not at all what I meant to say although I can see how the post I wrote could lead one to think I was painting Middle Eastern people with a broad brush. Since the core of the argument against releasing photos relates to inflaming the Middle East, I put it like that. But, really, the concern is that terror cells in any population in the world could be moved to organize an attack because of the photos. (At least, that’s a part of the core of the Obama administration’s argument against a release).

What sense does it make to suggest the “terrorists” are going to attack us because photos of bin Laden are released? I go back to the fear of releasing torture photos and the fear of WikiLeaks “dumping” classified information and conclude: Releasing information detailing atrocities does not threaten people. Atrocities committed by the US threaten people.

That’s not saying that Osama bin Laden’s killing was an atrocity (although there are European leaders debating the nature of our targeted execution of the terrorist leader). But, certainly those in al Qaeda look at what was done as an atrocity.

Finally, I’d like to address this comment from DailyKos user G2geek:

No. Because our form of government.... (10+ / 0-)

....is a representative democracy, and our elected representatives from both parties have viewed the pictures on our behalf and reported that the pictures do indeed show a dead Bin Laden.

You don't get to stand on the floor of the House or Senate and speak for yourself. Our Representative and Senators are elected to do that.

You don't get to read the daily intel briefing. Our President and his national security staff do that.

You don't get to view any classified document you might take a fancy to see. Our elected officials in the House and Senate can view such documents and report to us if they determine that something needs to be released or acted upon.

And you especially don't get to view these things based on mere idle curiosity or lust for death-porn or some other emotionalism plus or minus its rationalizations.

I find the willingness to trust in our elected officials to view classified information for us to be very naïve. These are the same people who viewed such information and led us into a war in Iraq that was based on false pretenses. These are the same people who cover up the corruption in Afghanistan and Pakistan and do not tell citizens what is exactly going on with US soldiers and US taxpayer money. These are the same people who do not appear to bat an eye when reading details on abuse and torture of detainees at Bagram, Guantanamo and CIA-operated secret prisons.

I don’t want to read daily intelligence briefings. That is not necessary. But, I do think, as Amy Goodman said at a panel on WikiLeaks at the 2011 National Conference for Media Reform, “I really do think of information as power. Information that we get to make decisions about how our country should act can determine whether people live or die.” Having access to that information gives us the ability to hold power accountable and responsible for its action or, in some cases, inaction.

But, more importantly, as Roger Boyes of the Australian writes:

The President took the decision to use hard power against a declared enemy of the US. To withhold bin Laden's image now for essentially aesthetic reasons would be to diminish the operation and create the impression that the US is somehow afraid of the consequences of its actions.

I have no lust for grisly images. If I want to see something grisly, I will grab some popcorn and have a Saw movie marathon. Now, what I would like to see is one morsel of the truth of what happened during the targeted operation. And, I would like to see US citizens abandon bankrupt logic against transparency, which allows power to get away with murder (although in this case the murder is much more justifiable).


While it would be ideal to release the photo, we must first ask ourselves if the release would cause any immediate harm.

The answer is that currently it would. It is not the same as the GITMO files, the release of those can be considered an admission of guilt.

This is what a Assault Rifle does to a Human Head: http://imgur.com/a/kTOaA#kDOjG

Each dishonest secret raises the stakes a little higher

A recent survey in China says "Governments enjoy much trust, society little, says survey" google it for details. Very briefly in includes the results that people have a fair amount of trust in Governments and Banks, more than in their fellow man.

A 12 month old survey in the U.S. titled, "Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor The People and Their Government" includes the results that "Just 22% say they can trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time, among the lowest measures in half a century."

In comparing the two from a helicopter view it is intriguing that the results appear inversely proportionate to the openness of the society. The less open, the more Governments are trusted.

But there is quite likely a different conclusion that could be drawn. The less open Governments are, the less chance there is to assess there trustworthiness.

People are trusting, from birth we believe, and want to associate with people we can trust, we value integrity very highly. We are inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. We assume innocent until proven otherwise. As a result, when our faith in other's integrity is damaged it often causes irreparable harm to the relationship. The larger the breach of faith, the greater the damage.

Close societies enjoy the trust of their citizens, until that trust is breached. And when it is it can cause huge disruption. China is a disaster waiting to happen. When the people finally realise that the top echelon of the Chinese Communist Party are corrupt capitalists all hell will break loose. Google "Mubarak's Example - Top Concern for the Chinese Officials". To date through suppression of information this is not widely known within China and the Chinese remain trusting of their Government.

We have seen what happens when closed societies, like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and on and on are given information that destroys the societies trust in their Government.

The U.S. Government is open, comparatively. The secrets it keeps are fine as long as they reflect what is understood to be the truth. But should it be discovered that these secrets do not reflect the truth or are complete fabrications it will cause a breach and the less honest the Government is or has been, the larger the breach will be.

The U.S. Government can decide to inform its citizens or keep secrets. But if the secrets that are being kept accurately reflect the truth then why are they being kept secret? We are all adults and have equal rights.

If the secrets are being kept for our protection from enemies, fine. If however, as often has been seen of late, they are being kept to limit exposure of Government corruption, cronyism, indefensible war-mongering, or other behaviour of which the citizens do not approve, that is a different issue with an unwritten headline in waiting, "Mubarak's Example - Top Concern for the U.S. Officials".

Doubling down is only a great strategy when you are playing at table stakes that you can afford to lose. If the Government is doubling-down by piling lie upon lie they are being exceptionally naive and will eventually turn what could be a minor incident into a major breach.

Time and WikiLeaks will tell.

One wonders if George W Bush's standing as persona-non-grata in many countries may soon be a more common standing among many of today's U.S. Officials? And when the dominoes start to tumble, will a future President grant immunity to previous office holders when he may be elected on the promise that he will prosecute?

Double down if you dare but know the stakes!

Im afraid we

We won't see no video, for the same reason we've seen no video of a plane hitting the pentagon on 9/11.
They are always using half-truths and deception. Makes it almost impossible to know what really happened.

Ordinary people really are not stupid.

The biggest risk is that denial of their subconcious awareness will place them in a moral dillema from which they cannot escape, as was the case in prewar Germany. Such a result is thankfully rare. In most cases there will occur a gap or a lapse in the snowstorm of propaganda. Through that gap people's basic integrity will explode and upset the totalitarian plans.

In spite of the threats of actions by Fedral Police agencies and autonomous agencies like DHS, there are Many Americans who are unwilling to compromise their integrity. There is reason to believe that this will end in the forseeable future. When a reasonable percentage of the people find that their government's actions are soiling the image of America, they will act. Even as a foreigner I hope that this realization is so widespread as to preclude internal strife.

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