Attacked by embarrassment

August 18, 2005

DOES THE Defense Department really think that releasing yet more images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib would cause a spike in violence against its soldiers in Iraq? As opposed to the spike in the past few days? Or the past few months?

The department is arguing in court that it shouldn't have to release its photos and video of abuse at the prison in Iraq because showing them would give aid to terrorists. But that damage, if any, is already done - with the public release of photos last year from the same source. With Iraq's insurgency in full throttle now, though, the Pentagon's real fears have more to do with getting another public-relations black eye.

This is the second weak argument the department has used to block release of these images. The first argument was that showing the prisoners in extremis would violate the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit shaming detainees. That's ironic, to say the least, since the photos presumably depict acts that themselves are illegal under the Conventions.

Should some images show classified material - top-secret weapon schematics in the background, double agents so identifiable that blocking their faces out wouldn't hide their identity - a judge should agree to keep them hidden. If they merely show actions "illegal, immoral and contrary to American values and character," as Gen. Richard B. Myers reports in the court filing, they should be released. They are part of public record and should be public.

What U.S. soldiers did at Abu Ghraib was wrong. It is important for Americans to know in full measure how wrong it was to ensure it won't happen again. Evidence of military crimes might offer a momentary lift to the insurgents; that is an unfortunate byproduct of wrongdoing.

To combat terrorism and thwart propagandists, the Defense Department should stop fighting in court and instead acknowledge the grave mistakes made at Abu Ghraib. Shame is not a good enough excuse for hiding the evidence of what occurred there.

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