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Ray Rice, video evidence, public horror, and the CIA’s torture program

The Baltimore Ravens football team tweeted this on May 23, 2014:

Today, on September 8, 2014, the same account tweeted this:

What changed?

In February of 2014, Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice was arrested after violently assaulting and knocking out his finaceé in a New Jersey elevator. Here are some of the things Ravens officials said about the incident, after Rice was suspended for two games in July, courtesy of Yahoo! sports:

Ozzie Newsome, Ravens general manager: "We respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect.”

John Harbaugh, head coach, in March: "He will be part of our team. He's a person of character. The thing that's really important is to be able to support the person without condoning the action. He makes a mistake. There's no justifying what happened. When you drink too much in public, those kind of things happen."

"When you drink too much in public, those kind of things happen." Something tells me Harbaugh regrets those words today. But why? Because now that video of the assault has been released to the public, it’s been made crystal clear exactly the kind of vicious behavior that the head coach is brushing aside, as if punching someone in the head is equivalent to tripping and falling while inebriated.

The release of the video of Rice’s assault changed everything. In May, the Ravens football team was tweeting disgusting victim blaming. Today, just hours after the video became public, it fired Rice. (Note: After the release of the video, the Ravens deleted the offensive tweet from May.)

That’s why the CIA destroyed video tapes depicting its waterboarding torture of captive prisoners. And it’s why the White House is vigorously fighting the release of yet more images depicting savage brutality and torture of US detainees.

Some people, including administration lawyers, say that releasing the images isn’t advisable, because doing so will provoke attacks against the United States. But incidents like the Ray Rice firing demonstrate that justice and ultimately—ideally—reconciliation are sometimes only possible if people can see how truly horrifying is the abuse in question.

Justice will not come absent a full airing of the CIA's crimes. Before the images of Ray Rice’s violence against his soon to be wife were released to the public, he still had a job. No one—not even the notoriously lax-on-domestic violence NFL—could ignore the video showing Rice’s knock-out punch.

If we want justice for the CIA and US military’s victims, we need to be confronted with the full force of their violence against detainees. Shielding abuse from the light of day only serves to protect abusers. Protecting abusers all but guarantees future abuse.

It’s time to take a solid step in the direction of ending that cycle of violence. Justice isn’t coming absent a full accounting of the abuse suffered at the hands of US torturers. The government must stop protecting its own abusers, and release these images—as well as the full torture report.

If it is so ashamed of its behavior, the US government should prosecute and hold accountable everyone who participated in and established the bureaucratic framework for the torture program. Anything less is a signal to future torturers that they’re looking at something like a two day suspension, if that—that torture is not a career ending move.

Like the Baltimore Ravens, the executive branch needs some outside assistance before reaching the right conclusion about how to treat abusers in its ranks. That assistance is much more likely to come if the public is faced with the full extent of the horrors of US torture.

UPDATE: The more I think about this, the more I realize that President Obama's comments that we should not get too "sanctimonious" about CIA torture sound disturbingly similar to Ravens head coach Harbaugh's statement about how "those kind [sic] of things happen" when people get drunk "in public." Contrary to these statements, torture and domestic violence aren't ho-hum events. We could use more sanctimony about them, actually, and the release of torture images might spur just that kind of reaction.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.