This nation learned so much from the depravity of Abu Ghraib prison. We learned of the stunning failure of military command. We learned that disclosure of such horrors, though difficult to hear and to see, is at the foundation of Americans’ right to know what it being done on their behalf.
And we were reminded that we are, as always, a resilient nation that owns up to its mistakes, no matter how grave.
The Obama administration is recklessly sweeping those lessons aside in a misguided attempt to keep from public view what has been described as an “eye-watering” video of a Guantánamo detainee being forcibly dragged from his cell and force-fed, while he is waging a peaceful hunger strike to protest his endless detention without a trial.
The administration should stand on the side of the public’s right to know. On Friday, U.S. Solicitor General Don Verrilli is scheduled to issue his decision as to whether the federal government will appeal a judge’s ruling ordering the video released for public scrutiny. Our fervent hope is that he does not appeal, let the video be made public — and let the chips fall where they may.
An appeal would aiding, basically, a government coverup.
The administration has been fighting hard against several media outlets, including the Miami Herald, that have so far come out on top in their lawsuit to have the video released. In October, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the release of 11 hours of footage of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian detainee, being restrained and force-fed.
According to his attorneys at Reprieve, a nonprofit that provides legal counsel to tackle what it calls “some of the harshest injustices,” the graphic video will bring about the same public revulsion as did photos of the tortured and humiliated detainees of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq more than a decade ago.
Then, images of young members of the U.S. military taunting nude detainees with barking, snarling dogs, smiling while posing with the bodies of dead prisoners and, infamously, Lynndie England holding one end of a leash while the other end was wrapped around the neck of a detainee crawling on the floor led to the demotion of a brigadier general; soldiers convicted, sent to military prison and dishonorably discharged; and an administration forced to repudiate torture.
“I want people to see the reality of Guantánamo,” said Reprieve attorney Cori Crider, speaking to the Editorial Board from its London office. “When you see an emaciated man subdued by six military police in full riot gear, hauled to a multi-restraint chair and a yard-long tube is jammed up his nose and down his throat …”
We get the picture. Clearly, it’s an ugly one, and the Obama administration doesn’t want the world to see how the fight against terrorism is being carried out. The behavior at Abu Ghraib was a revelation. But we have known about force-feeding at Gitmo for years. Detainees’ attorneys say the video’s shock value could bring about reform.
The administration has cited security risk as the impetus to keep the video under wraps. But after 14 years as the post-9/11 detention center in Cuba, Guantánamo’s very existence is a security risk. Detainees who have been released to their home countries, or third countries, emerge, or remain, radicalized. Guantánamo itself is the finest propaganda tool to recruit potential terrorists.
It has not made this country safer and remains a scourge that President Obama has been incapable of shutting down, despite his promises to do so. The video, though a shame and an embarrassment, could be the best way yet to get that promise fulfilled.