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Tuesday, May 11, 2004  

News and analysis: Truth and consequences

Yes, I've seen the beheading. Once purposely because of The Need to Know. A couple more times inadvertently because I did not look away fast enough. Your correspondent has a low threshhold for violent images. I tend to replay them in my mind or have nightmares about them. So, in the interest of mental hygiene, I avoid photos and videos of beatings and beheadings.

(You guessed it. The Diva will not be seeing Kill Bill, I or II.)

So, what does it all mean? All, in this case, being Americans tortured innocent Iraqis and Al Qaeda has retaliated by beheading a contractor from the United States on video. Writer and blogger Rick Heller anticipated some of my thoughts at the Centrist Coalition Blog.

Did Pictures Cause A Beheading?

An American has been beheaded by Al Qaeda, supposedly to avenge American prisoner abuses.

I've been uncomfortable about the release of pictures of American abuse. Avenging humiliation is a basic part of the culture in that part of the world. If those pictures create an emotional response in Americans, you can imagine how the people who identify with the person in the dog collar are feeling.

Arguably, Al Qaeda wants to kill Americans, and doesn't need an excuse to do so. But I feel the Army was right to try to put a lid of the pictures, even as it should investigate what caused the abuse to take place.

I agree with Heller that the pictures of prisoner abuse are likely the proximate cause of today's beheading, in regard to motivation. However, I still believe, as I said in an earlier entry, that the photographs and videos of abuse in Abu Ghraib deserve our attention. Part of the reason may be that, according to some of my friends from law school, I have reporter's ethics. I respect leaks and the people who make them. The effect of most leaks is to add more information about a situation to what is available through official channels. That allows people to make more informed decisions. I will stop there because I am not really an advocate of the John Stuart Mill perspective on free speech. I do not believe that truth necessarily trumps falsehood. Power often decides what most people consider 'truth' in my opinion. But, I do prefer to have as much information as possible become public.

Wait a minute, close readers are thinking. A few paragraphs ago, you said that you are so squeamish about gory images you avoid looking at them. Indeed, I did. And, I do. But, the fact that I can barely bring myself to look at images like the abuse at Abu Ghraib and the beheading does not mean those images should not be available. They tell peope what is going on. People have right to know that. So, I gladly sacrifice my squeamishness for the common good.

Heller is concerned that the pictures from the prison caused an American civilian to lose his life in a horrible manner. I regret the death of Nick Berg, too. I also regret the cycle of vengeance that has begun. Somewhere an Iraqi boy or man is probably being tortured, even killed, to retaliate for the killing of Berg . His murder will then be avenged, by Al Qaeda or others. The U.S. and its few allies will strike back, both openly and secretly. And, afterward. . . . However, if the images from Abu Ghraib had been suppressed, not just terrorists would have been deprived of that information. Everyone would have been. Without knowing how badly some American military personnel are behaving in Iraq, it would be more difficult to make a decision about American forces staying or withdrawing. People deserve the information the images convey.

9:21 PM