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Should Obama release military abuse photos?

Robert Maier
Saturday 16 May 2009

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Should photos that might inflame violence be suppressed by the government? KabulPress.org yesterday published a photo of imprisoned journalist, Parwiz Kambakhsh. The Afghan government may see this as inflammatory, and the photo was possibly taken against Afghan law. Nevertheless, KabulPress.org has published the photo, and it will undoubtedly appear in publications around the world.

In recent days, U.S. President Obama is receiving criticism from the world’s media for not releasing new photos of U.S. military abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. For a president who promised a more open government, this is an apparent about-face. However, the U.S, is a huge country with many different factions—including a large ultra-conservative group committed to seeing that his progressive policies fail.

The U.S. government must lead all the people, and perhaps Obama’s decision contains hidden wisdom. The U.S. faces great internal problems in economics and healthcare. Millions of Americans are unemployed, and to succeed, Obama must have as much support from the people as possible. Truthfully, nothing new can be revealed by these new photos. Nearly every American regrets that Iraq and Afghanistan were terrible mistakes that need a fresh approach.

For Obama to openly support the release of these photos may pointlessly provide ammunition to those who criticize him for leading the U.S. to total collapse. He does not need to feed this sentiment. The American free press will spread these photos far and wide. Those who print or possess them in the U.S. will not be arrested or jailed. They will be openly discussed and steps will be taken to see that justice prevails for the victims. This is happening every day in the U.S. as support grows for prosecuting Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their cohorts for lying to the American people and Congress.

I was in Kabul when reports of U.S. soldiers desecrating the Koran at Guantanamo hit the headlines. Westerners, no matter how noble their work, were forced into lockdown and feared for their lives. Afghan businesses that depended on their dollars laid off Afghan workers, and progressive thought was snuffed by opportunistic Mullahs who convinced gullible followers that Westerners were destroying Islam. It could be argued that this was the beginning of the anti-West cynicism that has engulfed Afghanistan in recent years. To me, the articles in American magazines that trumpeted the alleged desecration were a disaster. They were the equivalent of donating truckloads of AK-47s to the Mullahs.

This is a problem for a free press. Releasing photos of Parwiz could make his life in prison more difficult. Or, it could spark a movement that ends in his quick release. It is rumored that Karzai will release Parwiz after the election (if he is elected). To do so before, could release a firestorm favoring the anti-progressive Mullahs. Maybe it is best that Karzai wait another two months, just as it might be better that Obama not publicly consent to release photos of abuse at this time.

In either case, it is best for the media to apply consistent pressure on governments. A free press must comment, but must be aware of its power to corrupt. Every situation is unique and should be judged individually, and reactions of readers to news should be considered as carefully as journalists consider their stories. This is why reader comments are encouraged in Kabulpress—so that many points of view may be considered. This is the meaning of a free press.

Kabulpress English pages editor, writer, video producer and educator.

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