In a reversal, President Barack Obama is fighting the release of dozens of new photos showing U.S. personnel allegedly abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a White House official said [today].
Obama’s decision came after the top military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan told the president they feared the release of the photos could endanger their troops.
Obama decided he did not feel comfortable with the release and last week instructed his legal team to challenge it in court, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the president’s decision had not yet been made public.
Obama has instructed administration lawyers to make the case that the national security implications of such a release have not been fully presented to the court, the official said.
The president informed Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, of his decision during a White House meeting [yesterday].
Gen. David Petraeus, the senior commander for both wars, had also weighed in, as had Gen. David McKiernan, the top general in Afghanistan. Gates fired McKiernan on Monday for unrelated reasons.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said military “commanders are concerned about the impact the release of these photos would have for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq,” and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates shares their concerns.
In Afghanistan, release of the pictures this month would coincide with the spring thaw that usually heralds the year’s toughest fighting. Morrell also noted the release as scheduled would come as thousands of new U.S. troops head into Afghanistan’s volatile south.
Federal appeals judges have ruled the photos should be released.
Through an arrangement with the court, the Pentagon was preparing to release, by May 28, two batches of photos, one of 21 images and another 23. The government had also told the judge it was “processing for release a substantial number of other images.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing the government for the release, criticized the decision.
“The decision to suppress the photos is profoundly inconsistent with the promise of transparency that President Obama has made time after time,” ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said.
The Obama official said the president believes that the actions depicted in the photos should not be excused and fully supports the investigations, prison sentences, discharges and other punitive measures that have resulted from them [but that] the president does not believe that so publicizing the actions in such a graphic way would be helpful.
Our federal government is not allowed to act in secrecy except for in certain actual national security matters. That is why the American Civil Liberties Union, using the Freedom of Information Act, has succeeded thus far in legally compelling the Pentagon to release the photos.
The Obama administration is mimicking the Bush regime in claiming that it wishes to protect our troops when, in fact, it primarily wishes to cover up that which is embarrassing to the American military establishment. After all, if the American military establishment actually cared that much about our troops, our troops wouldn’t be where they aren’t absolutely needed in the first place — and our troops would receive the services that they need after they return physically and/or psychologically damaged from the battlefield.
The mere presence of occupying American troops on Muslim soil endangers their lives.
Yes, releasing more images of American troops abusing detainees probably could only further enrage those in the American-occupied regions of the Middle East, but these uncirculated images that the ACLU thus far has succeeded in getting released are five years old or older, I understand, and the images that came out of Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 and were seen around the world already would have softened the blow, I would think, so I wholeheartedly degree with the Obama administration that my right as a tax-paying American citizen to know what my government is doing with my tax dollars in my name should take a back seat to some military commanders who apparently primarily only want to preserve the image of the American military establishment, such as it is.
Yes, the images no doubt will be ugly — but this ugliness needs to be put out there in the open, not concealed, and I am deeply disappointed that the Obama administration would sacrifice the transparency that it promised us for the vanity of the commanders of the military establishment — using our troops as political human shields, just as the treasonous, unelected, war-crime-committing Bush regime did.