Obama Reverses Decision and Refuses to Release Abuse Photos

225px-official_portrait_of_barack_obamatorture -abu ghraibDespite earlier indications that there would be a release of detainee photos, President Obama has ordered that the photos been withheld in defiance of a judicial ruling. I discussed the development on this segment of the Rachel Maddow Show.

The Defense Department was set to release hundreds of photographs showing alleged abuse of prisoners in detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the White House has announced that the President has yielded to demands to withhold the pictures, citing the safety of U.S. troops are the reason — the very same reason given by the Bush Administration.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated “the president reflected on this case and believes that they have the potential to pose harm to the troops. … Nothing is added by the release of the photos.” Well, there is that transparency in government thing. There is also showing the world that we are going to come to grips and take responsibility for our actions. It is hard to accept responsibility for acts that you will not disclose to the public. The value is to show that the United States will not hide its abuses or hide from its responsibility.

The Administration also ignores that enemies already have sufficient photos for recruiting. What they also have is the argument that we are a nation of hypocrites who engage in torture when it suits us — only to resist investigation of those war crimes. Concealing our abuse of detainees only reaffirms this message.

Obama’s comments come directly from the Second Circuit opinion rejecting the very arguments that he made in the press conference. The court rejected the attempt to use FOIA as “an all-purpose damper on global controversy.” Obama himself pledged in January not to allow agencies to withhold material under FOIA that would embarrass the government. To add insult to injury, he also said that the release might interfere with “future investigations” — like the investigation his administration has blocked into torture.

Here is the Second Circuit opinion, acluvdod_photodecision

For the full story, click here.

139 thoughts on “Obama Reverses Decision and Refuses to Release Abuse Photos

  1. mespo727272 1, May 14, 2009 at 5:41 pm


    “…JT’s posting on this blog seem to be a fleshed out version of his more public appearances. Now I have no insight into the Prof’s mind, so I’ll just take him at his word that this is what he believes.”

    I agree with that statement, but my point was that the tone and subtleties are different in a compressed environment versus a more deliberative one, and even more so when your comments are a decision instead of an advisory opinion.

    Secretly, JT would prefer being a political commentator
    – in his next life…

    I’m finding it infinitely satisfying when people echo my thinking. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery
    – even when the credit is bestowed to someone else!

  2. Jill:

    “JT clearly backed up his statements with references to actions taken by Obama. To believe he doesn’t mean what he said one has also to believe he picked out facts that back up what he’s saying, but he didn’t really mean to point out these facts either. So he’s making statements he doesn’t mean and backing them up with facts he doesn’t mean either.”


    He’s doing what good advocates do-namely choosing the facts and presenting them in the order and in the manner he chooses for the greatest impact to support his position. Those that do not fit, he discards. That’s not being disingenuous; that’s lawyering. Notice he did not rebut the President’s concerns about troop safety in his Maddow interview, and totally discounted it as a causative factor except only to say there already are pictures out there. That’s ok, but it doesn’t make the issue go away. Maddow herself states that the ACLU says the pictures will “outrage” us. What makes you think it won’t re-outrage those who would do us harm. Notice Professor Turley takes no issue with that statement of the ACLU either. He’s a fine lawyer, but here on this blog tonight we are judging the President’s conduct not advocating, and in my judgment, the Professor, whom I respect and admire and who is exceedingly eloquent and logical, is likewise wrong.

  3. The “think about the troops” reasoning is nothing more than special pleading, in my opinion. If the pictures are released and violence increases, they’ll say the pictures caused it, and if they aren’t released and violence increases they’ll make up some other reason for it. I don’t really think the pictures are any of the public’s business, to be perfectly honest. If Mr. Obama and the Democratic leadership keep refusing to hold people accountable, we will just keep fighting. If they just did the right thing for once in their life, we could save ourselves all this trouble.

  4. I would agree that Pres. Obama is attempting to delay the photos, but when the court orders them to provide them, he can play both sides by saying he tried to convince the court not to release them. I do not think he will go to the Supremes because I don’t think he really wants to stop the photos, he just wants to be able to claim that the court ordered it, not him.

  5. I can’t remember where I read this, but government officials said that all Obama has to do is classify these documents and he can keep them hidden as long as he wants pretty much.

  6. Hi Matthew,

    That isn’t correct. Obama may claim state secrets (and he has done this to prevent evidence of rendition leading to torture from surfacing, for example in the Jeppesen Data Plan case) but the courts have told him on several occassions now, that he may not claim a blank check to conceal evidence on the basis of state secrets. These pictures are a case in point. The court ruled he must release the pictures. One of the best explanations of what happened in this case is outlined by Glen Greenwald. I would check out his site.

  7. Jill:

    Actually the Second Circuit ruled that the pictures were subject to the FOIA because the government could not prove that a specific individual or individuals faced a risk of harm as a result of the release. It also ruled in an ancillary matter to our discussion that the privacy rights of those depicted could be maintained by redacting certain identifiers in the photographs. The Court did not rule the releasing the photographs would have no impact on the safety of the troops in general just that the FOIA required a showing of specific endangerment to an identifiable person or group of persons. I think this is a significant interpretation of the FOIA and SCOTUS may well involve itself to define the scope of the endangerment exclusion of the statute. Should the government, at some point in the future, be able to identify a specific target of attack resulting from the release, I think the decision will be different.

  8. Jill,

    President Obama is perfectly within his rights to take whatever argument he wants and appeal the circuit court’s decision to the SCOTUS. I fail to see what is sinister about this method to buy some time before these pictures are released (which his information may indicate is highly desirable). To me, the only worrisome possibility is that the SCOTUS will reverse the lower court and even if that is the case, my first assumption would be that they were given a compelling reason for doing so.

  9. mespo,

    No one is above the law – except for those who are so far above it they won’t bother with sorting the minutia required to understand it…😉

  10. I commend The President for attempting to stop the release of additional Torture photos. Crimes were committed, some were punished, others, hopefully, will follow. As someone who has never been in the service, I can only speculate how much, and to what extent, the line of humanity and mores are blurred under the cover—and under the influence—of the Fog of War. And while many have been up in arms about the treatment of detainees their ire should also be directed at the actual criminal act itself that dragged us into war in the first place. Cheney should be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Because of his lies thousands of American Lives have been lost merely to fit his agenda. Fathers, Sons, Nephews, Mothers, Daughters, Friends and Neighbors, have died because how Cheney acted like the sick and sadistic piped piper that he is, leading this nation into the abyss of an utterly needless, senseless, War.

    Some may say that prosecuting a Vice President for Crimes is un-American. I’m not suggesting Cheney be prosecuted for war crimes. He should be prosecuted for lying to the American People, thus LEADING them into War. Pre-meditated Murder. He knew, absolutely knew, that lives would have been lost or lives would have manned, physically and emotional. He knew that the lives of American Service men and women would never, EVER, be the same again. He should be prosecuted for deceiving the American people, people who lived, loved and would die for their country.

    Micky, West Orange, NJ

  11. “Matthew Alexander, the principled interrogator in Iraq who chose to play by the rules, rather than embracing Cheney’s “Dark Side” (and later wrote an excellent book about his experiences), and was originally posted on VetVoice.

    If We’re Going to Reveal More Memos …

    Former VP Dick Cheney has requested the release of additional memos showing that torture and abuse saved American lives by preventing terrorist attacks. If the Obama administration decides to release these memos, then I suggest they also release statistics from Iraq showing the number of foreign fighters that were recruited because of our policy of torture and abuse. It was tracked. I know because I saw the slides and because I heard captured foreign fighters state this day in and day out. The government can also release the statistics that show that 90% of suicide bombers in Iraq were these same foreign fighters. These foreign fighters killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers.

    After these revelations, Americans can judge whether or not a policy of torture and abuse kept us safe. Unfortunately, we’ll never be able to evaluate the damage that was done to past or future interrogations. As I experienced firsthand, detainees were less likely to cooperate when they viewed us as hypocrites. We can’t establish the trust that is required to convince a detainee to cooperate unless we live up to the principles that we preach.

    I had one detainee in Iraq, a previous al-Qaeda fighter, who provided me with all the information he knew willingly without me having to run an interrogation approach. He told me that al-Qaeda had accused him of being a mole and tortured him before we rescued him. He then proceeded to say that the reason he was going to cooperate was because we didn’t torture him and because of that, he knew everything that he’d been told about us by al-Qaeda was wrong.

    Before 9/11, the protection of American soldiers from terrorist attacks was a priority for our country. Consider our responses to the Beirut Bombing, Khobar Towers, and the USS Cole. When we talk about keeping Americans safe from terrorist attacks, we need to include all Americans, especially those that serve in uniform.

    Matthew Alexander spent fourteen years in the US Air Force and Air Force Reserves. An “investigator turned interrogator” who deployed to Iraq in 2006, he conducted more than 300 interrogations and supervised more than 1,000. Alexander was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his achievements in leading the team that located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed by Coalition Forces. He is the author of How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq.”

    (from Andy Worthington’s site)

  12. Here is the latest info on these photos Evidently the information has been confirmed by General Taguba. Part of these were released a while back. It is a mistake for us not to release them ourselves. A good documentary on Abu Ghraib is:

    “Standard Operating Proceedure”
    This film clearly shows this torture was in no way the work of “a few bad apples”, but was in fact, ordered from the top.

    “Abu Ghraib abuse photos ‘show rape’
    Photographs of alleged prisoner abuse which Barack Obama is attempting to censor include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse, it has emerged.

    By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent and Paul Cruickshank
    Last Updated: 8:21AM BST 28 May 2009
    Iraq prison abuse: Abu Ghraib abuse photos ‘show rape’
    A previous image of Iraq prison abuse

    At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

    Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.”


  13. This is an important story of the release of secret KBG files in the Ukraine. It is interesting to see how another country is dealing with their past/present abuse of power by top officials. It’s well worth reading, given that we now face the same situation: (via BBC)

    “Ukraine is opening up part of its old KGB archive, declassifying hundreds of thousands of documents spanning the entire Soviet period.

    But the move to expose Soviet-era abuses is dividing Ukrainians, the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse reports from Kiev.

    Deep in the bowels of Ukraine’s former KGB headquarters there is a deathly silence. Thousands of boxes, piled floor to ceiling, line the walls. Each box is carefully numbered and each one contains hundreds of documents: case notes on enemies of the former Soviet state.

    Behind each number, there is a story of personal tragedy.

    Volodymyr Viatrovych, the chief archivist, pulled out a brown cardboard folder stuffed full of documents: case number 4076. At the centre of the case is a letter, dated 1940 and addressed to “Comrade Stalin, the Kremlin, Moscow”.

    A photo of Ivan Severin shot in the head (right) and the words: Liquidated. 3 April 1947
    Ivan Severin was “liquidated” in 1947, his case notes state

    “Dear Iosif Vissarionovich,” the letter starts. Nikolai Reva wanted Stalin to know the facts about the great famine of 1932-33, when millions died as a result of the Soviet policy of forced collectivisation.

    Like many at the time, Mr Reva believed that Stalin was being kept in the dark, and that if only he knew what was happening, he would surely put a stop to it.

    But his letter landed him in the Gulag. He was eventually rehabilitated – 25 years later.

    Many met a harsher fate.

    Leafing through one of many macabre photo albums, Mr Viatrovych pointed to a picture of Ivan Severin, shot in the head by the Soviet security services. Under the picture, in very neat handwriting, is written: “Liquidated, 3 April 1947″.”


  14. When are Obama supporters going to accept that he is not a beacon of open, fair, transparent government and—in fact—an enemy of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) unless challenged in court? I have a strong, growing dislike toward the man for whom I voted and I cannot wait until 2012 to do my best to see that he leaves the office of the U.S. Presidency in defeat as an abject hypocrite and liar.

    While—even as a conservative Republican—I doubt that I could learn to despise him as I have Bush/Cheney, I want him out of office so that I do not have the opportunity to find out over 8 full years of his lies, hypocrisy, and deceit that result in additional loss of our freedoms and further the loss of life and destruction in wars-for-profit.


    [ Gates Bars Torture Photos’ Release
    — By Nick Baumann | Fri November 13, 2009 9:17 PM PST

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates has used powers granted to him by a controversial new law to block the court-ordered release of numerous photos of detainee abuse, government lawyers revealed in a court filing [PDF] Friday evening.

    Gates’ new authority comes from a law, signed by President Barack Obama last month, that gives the Secretary of Defense the power to rule that photos of detainees are exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act. Gates’ action on Friday was the first use of the new FOIA exemption since it passed Congress last month. The photos in question are the subject of a years-long legal fight by the American Civil Liberties Union, which first filed a FOIA request for records pertaining to detainee treatment, rendition, and death in May of 2005. The case is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court.” ]

    More @ Mother Jones:


  15. Quoted excerpts from the article:

    Supreme Court Rules Against ACLU In Case Of Detainee Abuse Photos

    The Supreme Court has thrown out an appeals court ruling ordering the disclosure of photographs of detainees being abused by their U.S. captors.

    In doing so Monday, the high court cited a recent change in federal law that allows the pictures to be withheld.

    The administration appealed the matter to the Supreme Court, but also worked with Congress to give Defense Secretary Robert Gates the power to keep from the public all pictures of foreign detainees being abused.

    Gates invoked his new authority in mid-November, saying widespread distribution of the pictures would endanger American soldiers.

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who served on the 2nd Circuit until August, did not take part in the court’s consideration of the case, Department of Defense v. ACLU, 09-160.


  16. I am speechless. Which how the statists want me to be.
    Pure searing censorship of what should be public domain knowledge. This is a government not representing the people, but an entity unto itself.
    “You can’t handle the truth” they say to us.

    Disgusting and horrid.

  17. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

Comments are closed.