Why the “Neda Video” Is Important

Because her murder by Iranian government forces would not have sparked the international outrage it has sparked if we had just read about it in the paper.



But it raises a related question, which Glenn Greenwald explores at some length, taking the last question asked at Pres. Obama’s press conference yesterday as a starting point (emphasis is Glenn’s):

For the last question at his press conference yesterday, Obama was asked by CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux about his reaction to that video and to reports that Iranians are refraining from protesting due to fear of such violence.  As Obama was answering — attesting to how “heartbreaking” he found the video; how “anybody who sees it knows that there’s something fundamentally unjust” about the violence; and paying homage to “certain international norms of freedom of speech, freedom of expression” — Helen Thomas, who hadn’t been called on, interrupted to ask Obama to reconcile those statements about the Iranian images with his efforts at home to suppress America’s own torture photos (“Then why won’t you allow the photos –“).

The President quickly cut her off with these remarks:

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on a second, Helen. That’s a different question. (Laughter.)

The White House Press corps loves to laugh condescendingly at Helen Thomas because, tenaciously insisting that our sermons to others be applied to our own Government, she acts like a real reporter (exactly as — according to Politico‘s Josh Gerstein — White House reporters “could be seen rolling their eyes and shifting in their seats” when Obama called on The Huffington Post‘s Nico Pitney, who has done some of the most tireless work on Iran, gave voice to actual Iranians, and posed one of the toughest questions at the Press Conference).  The premise of Thomas’ question was compelling and (contrary to Obama’s dismissal) directly relevant to Obama’s answers:  how is it possible for Obama to pay dramatic tribute to the “heartbreaking” impact of that Neda video in bringing to light the injustices of the Iranian Government’s conduct while simultaneously suppressing images that do the same with regard to our own Government’s conduct?

The reason Thomas’ point matters so much is potently highlighted by a new poll from The Washington Post/ABC News released today — not only the responses, but even more so, the question itself (click to enlarge image):

Half of the American citizenry is now explicitly pro-torture (and the question even specified that the torture would be used not against Terrorists, but “terrorism suspects“).  Just think about what that says about how coarsened and barbaric our populace is and what types of abuses that entrenched mentality is certain to spawn in the future, particularly in the event of another terrorist attack.  But even more meaningful is the question itself — it’s now normal and standard for pollsters to include among the various questions about garden-variety political controversies (health care, tax and spending policies, clean energy approaches) a question about whether one believes the U.S. Government should torture people (are you for or against government torture?) That’s how normalized torture has become, how completely eroded the taboo is in the United States.

It would be one thing for the Obama administration to argue that there is no value in releasing torture photos specifically, and in investigating and imposing accountability for past abuses generally, if there were consensus among Americans that torture is wrong, barbaric and — as Ronald Reagan put it (hypocritically but still emphatically) — “an abhorrent practice” justifiable by “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever.”   But we have the opposite of that consensus:  we have an ongoing debate over torture that is fluid, vibrant and far from settled, with half the population embracing the twisted and morally depraved pro-torture position.  For that reason, to suppress evidence of what our torture actually looks like and the brutality it entails — particularly graphic evidence — is to make it easier for that pro-torture position to thrive, just as it would have been easier for the Iranian Government to slaughter protesters with impunity if they had succeeded in suppressing the images of what they were doing (it was this same dynamic that led the Israeli Army to defy its own Supreme Court and forcibly block reporters and photographers from entering Gaza and which caused the embedded American press to suppress images of the massive civilian deaths which their protectors, the U.S. military, was causing in Iraq).

Americans are able to perceive torture clinically and in the abstract when they’re able to endorse it without seeing its effects.  They’re able to delude themselves that the extreme abuses at Abu Ghraib were unauthorized aberrations — rather than the inevitable by-products of the policies they support — because the photos showing that those abuses were systematically applied at American detention facilities around the world are being suppressed.  It’s almost certainly true that few pro-torture Americans are aware that the policies they support — and that were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government — have led to numerous detainee deaths, because investigations into such matters are being blocked; court proceedings impeded; and media discussions confined almost exclusively to questions about “water in nostrils.”  If Americans want to endorse government torture, they should not be allowed to avert their gaze from what they’re causing and be spared the facts and details of what is done.

12 Responses to “Why the “Neda Video” Is Important”

  1. Kathy says:

    Yeah, I saw this article yesterday. It’s terrible. I sure wish the United States was in a position to condemn this kind of thing.

  2. gcotharn says:

    We are. We do not rip Code Pink protesters from their homes in the night, then either murder them and their families, beat them and their families, or take them off and either beat them or torture them in private.

  3. gcotharn says:

    People are dying in Iran. The dying people are innocent of wrongdoing. Those suffering and dying people need the support of the persons on this blog. Please help.

    Jon Voight:

    “And then I saw the end of the war. I saw us pull out, and then I saw the communists move in and slaughter 2 1/2 million people in South Vietnam and Cambodia. And I saw the left that had precipitated this turn away, just walk away from it. … They didn’t take seriously the blood that they had been directly causing.”

    The left is not the cause of horrible deeds done by the Iranian regime. However, that part about “turn away, just walk away from it…. They didn’t take seriously the blood….” Does that resonate at all?

    I do not join your outrage about Israel b/c
    1) I disbelieve most of the accusations of Israeli wrongdoing
    2) I accept that there is always some wrongdoing in war
    3) Israeli behavior is not the true problem there
    4) I do not condescend to infantalize the Palestinians into children: I do not believe the Palestinians are so “infuriated” that they cannot help themselves from shooting rockets into Israel. Further, who more responsible for rousing Palestinian emotion: Israeli action? or Palestinian “leaders” who constantly rail against and lie about Israel?

    So, I have reasons for not joining your outrage against Israel.

    What are your reasons for turning away from Iranian people who are clearly, undeniably innocent? Who are protesting in the fashion of Ghandi or MLK? Who are suffering beatings, death, deaths of loved ones?

    At this point, Pres. Obama has surrounded the issue of whether or not to criticize the Iranian government: saying it ought not be done, then criticizing the Iranian government harshly. If you believe it strategically foolish to criticize the Iranian government, perhaps you could rouse yourself to criticize Pres. Obama for inconsistency, and for committing a horrifying strategic blunder.

    When you turn away from the Iranian people, you lose credibility for future protestations in support of Palestinians people.


    re Greenwald: when we define everything as torture, we lose credibility for protesting true torture. We lose our conception of the monstrosity which torture truly is. What we bleat is “torture” amounts to Lite Beer, and people lose their sense of outrage.

    It is the same with sexual harassment: when we define everything as sexual harassment, we demean the true victims of sexual harassment. When we define GWB as a fascist, we demean the true victims of fascism. When we define everything as racially offensive, we demean the true victims of racism. Such is all done, at various times, for various political gain. The cost is the diminution of the immorality of the actual offense; and the diminution of the wrong done to the victims.

    The same diminution occurs when we say, across the board: torture doesn’t work. In certain situations, as practiced by professionals: torture does work. It diminishes the monstrosity of it to say it never works. It costs us credibility amongst serious thinkers.

    It is the same with saying torture is never justified, and with peremptorily dismissing those who would consider using torture in a nightmare ticking clock situation. Peremptory dismissal costs us credibility amongst serious persons. It is legitimate to make a case that torture is never justified. It is illegitimate to peremptorily dismiss those – including 50% of the American public – who would consider it. Are you truly that much wiser than 50% of the American public. I know you think you are, but I say: think again. Consider humility.

    And it is the same with saying ticking clock situations never occur. They have occurred. More importantly, they easily could occur. Pretending they never will occur is fantasy and denial.


    What I mostly care about is this: people are dying in Iran. The dying people are innocent of wrongdoing. Those suffering and dying people need the support of the persons on this blog. Please help.

    Even if it is strategically foolish for Pres. Obama to condemn Iran, it is not strategically foolish for persons on this blog to speak out.

  4. Howard says:

    The killing of Neda in the open street by an apparently non uniformed government sniper is absolutely abhorent. These young people are the future of an Iran that would contribute to world.
    They have made a martyr.

  5. gcotharn says:

    The man who tried to save Neda Agha Soltan: Mr. Arash Hejazi, speaks out – and, in so doing, puts his life in further jeopardy. He is an ordinary man, infused with a Divine spark, finding his voice and rising to this moment, as a pantheon of ordinary men have done through the ages. Salute. BBC.

  6. Kathy says:

    Every person who walks the earth is infused with a divine spark, including all the people still imprisoned at Guantanamo, and including you.

  7. gcotharn says:

    And you, Kathy. God values truth. Evil values fantasy.

  8. Kathy says:

    And no one has a lock on truth.

  9. gcotharn says:

    When I said, “God values truth”, I was speaking of historic truth such as:

    The Iranian government is sanctioning murder of innocents.

    and I was speaking of historic truth which you have been fantasizing as untrue. Examples:

    Torture, administered by professionals, often works.

    Ticking clock scenarios have happened, and, given human history, could easily happen in future, and on a horrific scale.

    I was also speaking of widely understood truth about human nature which you have been ignoring:

    Palestinians are not children who are unable to restrain themselves from shooting rockets into Israel.

    Your statement: “And no one has a lock on truth” is a metaphysical assertion, and is a separate issue from what I was speaking about. But I will also address your separate issue.

    Truth exists.

    An application, for instance, of waterboarding, is either moral or immoral. That neither you nor I know with worldly certainty whether it is moral or immoral does not invalidate that the action is, in fact, and nevertheless, either moral or immoral. The truth of the morality or immorality of the action exists separate from our worldly knowledge of it.

    When you say: “No one has a lock on truth”, I might – to a degree – agree with you, if you mean that each of us comes to our best spiritual understandings of various moral truths (i.e. is this instance of waterboarding moral or immoral?).

    It is difficult to choose words about this subject. Some people say “Truth doesn’t exist; everything is opinion,” and then use this as a jumping off point into abandonment of morality and into rationalization of whatever action they wish to justify via their now unconstrained opinion.

    Yet, truth does exist. Morality is absolute, and each action we take is either moral or immoral. Our human circumstance is that we often cannot ascertain truth merely through intellectual seeking, but rather through both intellectual and spiritual seeking(and emotional, physical, or whatever else it takes). We can ascertain truth in this fashion, i.e. via spiritual seeking. The problems being:
    1) God sets this up as a difficult process
    2) We are human and therefore will often mislead ourselves about truth we believe we have ascertained,
    3) spiritual knowledge cannot be secularly transmitted from person to person. God must become involved with the second person as well.

    So, to your statement: “And no one has a lock on truth.”

    So long as you believe absolute truth exists, then there’s a good chance we agree with each other.

  10. I will not get into any substantive discussion with you about truth and the nature of truth because I do not believe you are someone with whom, for me, such a conversation could be meaningful, productive, or satisfying.

    I will, however, respond to a few of your statements that allow for a yes/no or I do/I don’t type of answer:

    1. I do not believe absolute truth exists.
    2. Your “1, 2, 3” list toward the end of your comment, starting with “God sets this up as a difficult process”: I believe that those three statements are true.
    3. There is no one single absolute “historic truth,” apart from a relatively small number of narrow and specific statements or assertions that can be made about historic events — and even those often turn out not to be completely true, or true as commonly believed. Example: “The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776” is an historic truth — although even that falls apart under closer examination.
    4. Your series of statements at the top of your comment, beginning with “When I said,” and ending with (but including) “Palestinians are not children,” are not historic truths.

    And that last is as close as I believe one can come to absolute truth. The only possible assertion that one could call an absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth.

    This is all that I will say on the subject, as it relates to any discussion with you.

  11. gcotharn says:

    You brought up the metaphysical issue: “And no one has a lock on truth.”

    A personal observation: if a conversation is a mutual search for truth, it is surprising how often it becomes meaningful, productive, and satisfying.

    Absent being a mutual search for truth, conversation becomes either mutual ego stroke amongst persons of the same world view – which is kind of pitiful and empty, really; or conversation becomes an exercise in attack and defend – with weaponry consisting of previous knowledge, and with no new knowledge or way of looking at things leaching into one’s brain. This, also, is kind of pitiful, empty, and unfullfilling. Maybe you can get an occasional ego stroke if your existing knowledge trumps the existing knowledge of some poor sap. But, really, how truly satisfying is such an exchange? It’s kind of like a chocolate rush: fun.. then instantly melted away and gone, leaving behind only a sugar crash.

    I appreciate your sharing of your thoughts about truth, et al.

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