Why today's court decision ordering release of Guantanamo force-feeding videos matters


[Also published at Freedom of the Press Foundation blog.]

Okay, this is huge: a federal judge has ordered the government to release videos of Guantanamo force-feedings. Expect the footage to be sickening to watch.

Barry Eisler.

Barry Eisler.

Why is this so important? Because, as the saying goes, if the slaughterhouses of the world were made of glass, we'd all be vegetarians. And the only thing that enables most people to shrug at America's descent into torture and other abusive and illegal practices is the fact that they don't have to see—and therefore acknowledge—what's actually happening.

If it's true a picture's worth a thousand words, video is even more so. Imagine if there had been no Abu Ghraib photographs. There barely would have been a story, let alone an outcry, let alone reforms. This is why the CIA destroyed its interrogation videos. It's why the government works so hard to obscure what it's doing in our name—not just through secrecy, but with Orwellianisms like "enhanced interrogation techniques" (we borrowed that one from the Gestapo). They've even tried to paint the mass Guantanamo hunger strikes as "long-term non-religious fasts." If that doesn't set off your bullshit detector, it might be time to check to see if it's working at all.

It might not be a bad idea to ask whether a policy we can only be comfortable with by keeping it secret and obscuring it with strained euphemisms is such a great idea. Now that we'll be able to actually see what one such policy looks like, let's hope we'll be able to make some progress toward rediscovering our commitment to law, to morality, and to our own national security.