Recently, I watched a very interesting, albeit unsettling, documentary titled “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.” More information about the film is here.
The film, of course, addresses the notorious photographs of torture (or alleged torture, some feel) that was conducted by U.S. prison workers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The pictures speak for themselves. The people interviewed speak volumes as well, although their assertions (unlike the pictures)are more open to dispute. Were the prison workers involved “a few bad apples,” or were they acting under the explicit direction or negligent oversight of the U.S. government? All of the above, according to the film.
To be fair, the film is biased. The film focuses on the prisoners’ hardships and alleged misconduct by the government, while little is said about national security interests or the alleged benefits of the prison and interrogations methods used.
With that said, this film’s allegations of governmental wrongdoing strongly align with other allegations against our government in a range of different (and important) contexts. The themes of the Bush administration’s alleged wrongdoings are consistent, and emerge as universal threads present in diverse subject matters. Those themes are:
- The alleged misconduct starts on top. According to repeated allegations in different contexts, high-ranking representatives of government fail to respect or address individuals’ rights, and/or high-ranking representatives initiate policies that are implemented to harm individuals and their rights.
- No accountability. High-ranking officials are not adequately investigated, much less held accountable, for alleged wrongdoing that is severe.
- The government lacks evidence to support its actions, or refuses to show evidence. The government treats Individuals adversely (e.g. throws them into prison, examines their private phone conversations) for little stated basis, or for no stated basis. The government repeatedly cites a need for secrecy, which is extolled as an alleged virtue in the interest of national security. The problem is, excessive invocations of “secrecy” make one wonder if there is something being hidden by the government, and why it needs to be hidden. One also wonders if the government ever had tangible evidence in the first place.
The Abu Ghraib film raised several questions that I found important. The same questions raised in other contexts, such as Guantanamo Bay, and the recent telecom immunity debates.
Why, exactly, do we need to spy on and arrest suspected “terrorists” without showing a warrant or evidence, when other types of serious wrongdoers (e.g. suspected “corporate-backdaters”) are afforded due process and then some? I’m not saying the latter folks should not continue to get due process (they should), I’m asking why don’t the former get it?
Why, exactly, do we need to throw ANYONE into jail without the government showing SOME evidence? Without allowing the accused to present their own evidence, and have their day in court? The answer, it seems, is “because they are terrorists.” Or “because they are enemy combatants.” Or, simply, “because.”
These are knee-jerk labels and conclusions, not facts. Worse, they are knee-jerk conclusions made by politicians and the like, not conclusions by prosecutors or judges. Only after evidence is presented and evaluated can we hope to legitimately determine whether one is in fact a “terrorist” or an “enemy combatant.”
If someone is suspected to be a terrorist, that’s all the more reason to BRING OUT the evidence. Put it out in the sunlight, so a full evaluation can take place as to just how dangerous the accused may be or is, and just how important and swift the need for justice and action are.
From the standpoint of the accused, if we are to accuse someone of something as serious as being a “terrorist,” shouldn’t we be just as serious about allowing him his day in court? To do our best to ensure he isn’t given the weighty label of “terrorist”- and the severe punishment that entails- by mistake??
The more weighty a given allegation, the more serious we should be to make sure that allegation (which could subject the accused to imprisonment, death and now torture) is substantiated by evidence and a full and fair legal review.
This notion of due process was an original principle and foundation of our country. From that foundation, we evolved to the point where we had prosecutors whose job was to prosecute. Defense attorneys to defend. Judges and juries to consider the evidence and to make an impartial legal determination. All these functions are blurred and eradicated if we focus on the label of “terrorist” as an end or assumption in itself, and overlook the legal process we must follow before we can genuinely arrive at that label.
“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” is a biased documentary. But none of its subject matter- and particularly, none of the indisputably horrific pictures- would have ever existed if our country respected due process as did our country’s founders.