Archive for June, 2009

Obama’s tortured logic on abuse photos

June 14, 2009

President Barack Obama signaled in May that he would withhold photos of prisoners abused in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. This coming after the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2003 to release government documents relating to prisoner abuse in U.S. detention facilities.

In a statement Obama made May 13, he argued that the release of the photos will do nothing but “further inflame anti-American opinion and . . . put our troops in greater danger.”

Although Obama believes that the photos will likely provoke terrorism against US soldiers or foreign officials, he simultaneously maintained that the photos were “not particularly sensational.”

Really? Not sensational? That’s not the impression given by Major General Antonio Taguba, who remarked “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency,” and later “The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) are leading the charge in the Senate to have the photos withheld. The two issued a statement June 9 which read:

We should strive to have as open a government as possible, but the behavior depicted in the photos has been prohibited and is being investigated. The photos do not depict anything that is not already known. Transparency, and in this case needless transparency, should not be paid for with the lives of American citizens, let alone the lives of our men and women in uniform fighting on our behalf in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

There is a lot wrong with this paragraph, so we’ll dissect it line by line.

We should strive to have as open a government as possible, but the behavior depicted in the photos has been prohibited and is being investigated.

If the behavior done in the photo was prohibited, then the person doing it should have been punished. Notice there is no mention in the statement that the people responsible have been punished (and it is now more than five years after the abuse took place). Also, the fact that it is “being investigated” is totally meaningless because all regimes, no matter how repressive, can feign interest in correcting their own mistakes.

The photos do not depict anything that is not already known.

Really? It is already known that soldiers raped detainees? And if this information were already known, why would you spend any energy trying to block its re-release when it (evidently) has already been released?

Transparency, and in this case needless transparency….

Needless for whom? There are millions of Iraqis and Afghanis who have to decide whether or not they want to continue living under a U.S. occupation. How the U.S. treats their countrymen in prison is of course useful information when making that decision. Or do Lieberman and Graham not want them to make an informed decision, but rather a decision based on information run through a government filter; a filter that neatly removes incriminating and embarrassing information about the American occupation?

Transparency, and in this case needless transparency, should not be paid for with the lives of American citizens, let alone the lives of our men and women in uniform fighting on our behalf in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Exactly what is the causal relationship between the release of the photos and the taking of lives? Upon viewing the photos, a previously peaceful Iraqi will take up arms against the U.S. in an effort to expel it from the country. I’m to understand that U.S. foreign policy, and specifically detainee policy, is or potentially will be responsible for creating terrorism. And when the left says this very thing they are accused of “blaming America first”!

Actually, I haven’t seen any evidence that releasing photos will increase terrorism. But while we’re on the subject of increasing terrorism, what do Lieberman and Graham think will happen when the Iraqis and Afghanis learn that the U.S. has an official policy of concealing embarrassing information about its occupations? Can they honestly believe that that will not enrage the people they are occupying?

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Donate $200 and name a janitor’s closet

June 8, 2009

A few years ago I worked at the Phone Center of the Iowa State University Foundation. The foundation makes money for the university by securing donations from alumni and sponsorships from businesses. My job as a fundraiser was to convince the alumni that building renovations and study abroad scholarships were causes worthy of their hard-earned money.

We usually relied on the alumnus’ sense of altruism when we explained why they should give to ISU. You can imagine that presenting ISU as a charity was a tough sell considering that there are so many other charities that they could give to such as Oxfam or Save the Children, and post-secondary education for a first-world teenager is no where near as pressing as feeding the hungry in Africa.

(Tough sell or not, the Foundation has been fairly successful at procuring donations from ISU alumni at a clip of roughly $3 million annually in recent years from the Phone Center alone.)

While successful, I always thought that we could do an even better job of getting donations. I noticed that when it came to dealing with businesses, the Foundation did not rely on altruism but rather on the company’s self-interest to secure funding. This is apparent from the Foundation’s webpage for corporations:

“With our knowledge of the breadth and depth of Iowa State’s capabilities, we can help you [the company] connect with the appropriate colleges, programs and faculty on campus to meet your business needs.” (My italics)

What would happen if the university applied this kind of reasoning, appealing to their donors’ egoism rather than altruism, to secure donations from its alumni as well? After all, the university is at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to competing for the money of altruists anyway because those people are more likely to donate to other, more needy charities.

However, Iowa State does have one thing that may be of interest to egoists that the other charities do not have, and that is lots of property and the right to name it.

Iowa State has over 160 buildings on campus. The university already sells the naming rights to the buildings, but what about to individual rooms? The university could sell the right to name each of the rooms in its buildings to alumni (or anyone really) willing to buy that right.

It occurs to me that there are people out there who’d be more likely to donate money to the university if they received some lasting public recognition for it; something to stoke their ego. Why not allow them to name one of the janitor’s closets in the Memorial Union for a few hundred bucks? For the big donors, ISU could emboss their profile on the door complete with an inspiring quote from that person.

What do you say?