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Obama Pressured Into Withholding Prisoner Abuse Photos

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Thursday, 14 May 2009 08:20

In reversing an earlier commitment to release photos of U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners, President Barack Obama succumbed to a propaganda barrage unleashed by former Bush administration officials, their congressional allies, the right-wing news media and holdovers who retain key jobs under Obama.

Obama said Wednesday that his decision stemmed from his personal review of the photos and his concern that their release would endanger American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the reversal also comes after several weeks of mounting attacks against him as weak on national security.

That assault has been led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has appeared on numerous talk shows to denounce Obama for endangering U.S. security because he has abandoned the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques" for coercing information from terrorism suspects.

Last weekend, Cheney's daughter Liz, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs, went on Fox News to excoriate Obama for having agreed to release the abuse photos because, she claimed, the President found it "fashionable" to "side with terrorists." She also questioned whether Obama "really cared about"  U.S. soldiers.

"I think that it is really appalling that the administration is taking this step," Liz Cheney said. "I have not seen the pictures, I don't know what is in them. But clearly what they [Obama officials] are doing is releasing images that show American military men and women in a very negative light.

"And I have heard from families of service members, from families of 9/11 victims, this question: When did it become so fashionable for us to side, really, with the terrorists? For us to put information out that hurts American soldiers."

Obama faced pressure, too, from two senators who were staunch supporters of President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq and his aggressive "war on terror" policies--Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

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Graham and Lieberman called on Obama "in the strongest possible terms to fight the release of these old pictures of detainees in the war on terror, including appealing [a federal court] decision"  to the Supreme Court and pursuing all legal options to prevent the public disclosure of these pictures."

The two senators wrote, "The release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been clearly prohibited will serve no public good, but will empower al-Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country's image, and endanger our men and women in uniform."

Also pushing Obama to keep the photos secret were two military holdovers from the Bush administration--Gen. Ray Odierno, Bush's last commander of U.S. forces in Iraq who remains there under Obama, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said it was Odierno who convinced Gates to make a fight over the photo release.

Human Rights Reaction

Obama's reversal stunned human rights groups, including the ACLU which had prevailed in federal court to have the photos released and had negotiated an agreement with the Obama administration that set May 28 as the deadline for turning over the photos.
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ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said Wednesday "the Obama administration's adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the President's stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government."

"It is true that these photos would be disturbing; the day we are no longer disturbed by such repugnant acts would be a sad one. In America, every fact and document gets known--whether now or years from now. And when these photos do see the light of day, the outrage will focus not only on the commission of torture by the Bush administration but on the Obama administration's complicity in covering them up."

Obama's decision to fight to conceal the photos marks an about-face on the open-government policies that he proclaimed during his first days in office.

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
 

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