Obama Opposes the Release of Detainee Photos

Yesterday, the Obama administration reversed its position and said it would try to prevent the release of photographs depicting abuse of detainees by American military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The decision came after military commanders warned that the images could provoke further attacks on US troops overseas, and possibly against civilian targets as well.

While explaining the change in policy, President Obama said “The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.  In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.  The abuse of detaineed in our custody is prohibited and will not be tolerated,” he added.

Some advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the decision.  Others, including leading Republicans like Sen. John McCain, applauded the president’s change of course.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that the public interest involved in the release of the photos outweighted speculative fears of putting military personnel at risk.  The Justice Department will appeal the ruling and try to take the case to the Supreme Court.

On an editorial note, Obama’s decision is prudent.  The public is already aware that abuses of detainees have taken place, and it has already seen images of such acts during the Abu Ghraib scandal.  Although government transparency is generally a good thing, in this case publicizing the photos would be detrimental to US interests because Al Qaeda and other anti-American groups could use them as a tool to recruit suicide bombers and insurgents who would target troops and civilians.  It is difficult to see how releasing the photos would serve the public interests, as the Appelate Court claims.



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