By Dan Froomkin
2:33 PM ET, 05/13/2009
President Obama's about-face on the release of more photos depicting detainee abuse is a colossal mistake.
The president who came into office promising to restore our international reputation and return responsibility to government now seems to be buying into the belief that covering up our sins is better than coming clean.
Obama has always been conflicted about how intensely to probe the abuses of the previous administration. He has an understandable desire not to stir things up, not to set people at each others' throats, and not to distract from his agenda. It's also reasonable for him to worry about the effect of disclosures on troops in harm's way. But ultimately, it's not his call to make.
Everything was set in motion a long time ago, when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney made the calls that they did. The truth has to come out, in all its horror -- and it will come out. For Obama to actively take side with those fighting against disclosure is a real disappointment.
The photos, which the administration had previously agreed to release under court order, reportedly show that the kind of vile, sadistic treatment of detainees illustrated in the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib in Iraq were in fact not limited to that one prison or one country. They would have been a visceral and powerful antidote to former vice president Cheney's furious PR campaign intended to cast the argument about government-sanctioned torture as a narrow one limited to the CIA's secret prisons.
Michael D. Shear and Scott Wilson write for The Washington Post: "In announcing the shift today, the White House said in a statement that Obama 'strongly believes that the release of these photos, particularly at this time, would only serve the purpose of inflaming the theaters of war, jeopardizing US forces, and making our job more difficult in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.'"
David Stout writes for the New York Times: "'These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib,' said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the A.C.L.U., which sued for release of the pictures under the Freedom of Information Act....
"Disclosure of the latest pictures 'is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse,' said Ms. Singh."
Obama now finds himself sharing sides with Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, who argued yesterday that releasing the photos was tantamount to siding with the terrorists.
There was also a lot of torture-related activity on the Hill this morning, with a former State Department official decrying the Bush administration's "collective failure" on the interrogation of terror suspects, and a former FBI agent saying brutal tactics such as waterboarding didn't actually work. (See Carrie Johnson, writing for The Washington Post.) I have to run, but I'll have more tomorrow.