May 10, 2004

Congress and the photographs.

Alan Wizbicki has an excellent piece in TNR lambasting the Senate Armed Services Committee members who complained to Secretary Rumsfeld that they had not been adequately informed about the abuses of the Iraqi prisoners. Wizbicki's point is that they had plenty of information before the photographs came out. He nails Senator Warner, who last November was complaining that the Army had punished "Allen West, a lieutenant colonel ... who stag[ed] a mock execution of an Iraqi prisoner":
Warner knew, and in one case, approved, of American interrogation practices that skirted ethical lines. For him to now demand to know why members of Congress were "not properly and adequately informed" about prisoner abuses reeks of hypocrisy. They were informed. A more relevant, and humble, question might be why they waited until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke to do anything about it.

It seems to me that what upset the Senators was not the lack of information about the existence of abuse but the lack of information about the existence of photographs. It is dismaying to realize how much difference the photographs have made to so many people. What shameful human weakness lies in our willingness to tolerate abuse when we don't see it! Are we so bereft of imagination that without photographs we don't really understand what is happening? Are we such creatures of emotion that we feel compelled to take suffering into account when photographs have moved us, but committed to do what seems to need to be done as long as there are no photographs?

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