Andrew Sullivan Took the Words Out of My Mouth

| Thu May 14, 2009 1:02 PM EDT

I've been reading all the chest-beating about Obama's perfidy in not releasing the torture photos and wondering why I seemed so alone. Sullivan was one of his harshest critics.

At first blush, and certainly after Obama's stance on trying the Bush admin torturemeisters, it seemed insupportable that the photos not be released. But the more I read, the more I wondered: what good would it do? It's like showing a jury gory photos of a murder victim; it serves no purpose but to inflame and not very subtly signal to the jury to go crazy on the perp.

I'm with Obama in believing that releasing the photos would certainly heighten the danger for our troops. And, aside from re-proving that we had indeed become a nation of torturers, why should the world witness anymore of our brutality or more degradation of our victims? After the Abu Ghraib photos, what's to be learned? Yes, it would hold those responsible just that much more responsible, but if you don't believe the obvious by now, no more photos will help, while certainly making us just that much more hated around the world. Those of us who are not ashamed by now never will be and those of us who are don't need our prurient interests satiated. Admitting to ourselves and the world the heinous things we've done is all that decency requires. It would be irresponsible to publish the photos when nothing can be gained by doing so; humbly admitting their existence is enough, as long as they're retained for use by a Truth Commission. By no means should our torture policy's architects escape justice. There, Obama and I part company.

Sullivan, to his credit, has again admitted to a change of heart. Or, more precisely, that blogging often requires one to admit when they've been too hasty:

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The point of the photos is not to demonstrate more gore; it is to have a fresh opening to explain to Americans just how widespread this was, and also to remind them that this led to the deaths of scores. But against this important public interest, the president has another duty—to his soldiers in the line of fire. These soldiers deserve a chance to do their astonishingly difficult job without inflaming those who might be inspired to kill and attack them. I see no reason to suspect that Obama is not genuine about this question, and it's a fair factor to consider. More importantly, he has not said that suppressing the photos at this time means suppressing them for ever, and has not indicated that he will prevent justice being done. In fact, his statement said the opposite.

The pro-torture right will say this call is obvious. It isn't. It's very hard. When you have inherited a policy of war crimes, and you are still fighting a war, balancing accountability with responsibility is tough. I think, having made our point, we should cut the man some slack on this. What matters is holding those who destroyed America's moral standing responsible. That is a struggle for patriots to engage, a Truth Commission to study, and the attorney-general to pursue, while allowing the president to do his job as commander-in-chief.

So, yes, by all means, air the photos: but only in pursuit of the truth and in punishing those responsible. And 'hear hear' to Andrew for admitting when he's been too quick on the draw.

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