Transparency flip-flop on detainee photos

By , May 29, 2009 8:28 am

First the Obama Administration was going to comply with a court ruling to release more photos from Abu Ghraib. That was until Obama changed his mind (pdf) and felt that release of the photos “would pose an unacceptable risk of danger to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Yesterday, the Justice Department asked the Second Circuit Court to stay the ruling ordering release of the photos because the Obama Administration has decided to appeal to the Supreme Court “absent intervening legislation” (by Congress). In its court filing asking for a halt to the release of photos, a partially secret statement by Gen. David H. Petraeus reportedly stated that releasing the photos could also increase the risk of violence in Pakistan.

SCOTUSblog notes that the Senate introduced legislation to block the release of the photos. The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act would change the language of the Freedom of Information Act.

The issue heated up on Wednesday when The Daily Telegraph in the U.K. reported that the photos in dispute show the rape and sexual abuse of detainees. Their source? No less than Major General Antonio Taguba, he of the inquiry into abuses at Abu Ghraib in 2004. (BUT SEE UPDATE AND CORRECTION BY TAGUBA, BELOW)

Now what was it that the President had said about there being nothing new in the photos or nothing that would shock the conscience:

I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.

In response to the newspaper’s report, the Pentagon claimed that the paper had shown “an inability to get the facts right,” while White House spokesman Robert Gibbs suggested that the newspaper was generally not very accurate or truthful:

Meanwhile, Taguba agrees with the President that the photos should not be released as it would inflame anti-American sentiment and put American troops at greater risk.

Do you think that they should be released now, delayed, or locked away for the next 100 years? Yes, this is another part of the mess that Obama inherited, but what should he do now? And if you argue for suppression to protect our troops, then don’t the victims deserve some measure of justice, even if that measure is merely visual proof of what was done to them?

UPDATE, MAY 31: The Huffington Post reports that White House reporters received an email on Saturday from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that said:

A number of you have asked about or reported on a recent article in the Telegraph that inaccurately described photos which are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit. Both the Department of Defense and the White House have said the article was wrong, and now the individual who was purported to be the source of the article has said it’s inaccurate. Given that this false report has been repeated around the world, and given the impact these negative reports have on our troops, I felt it was important for you to see this correction.

In the email, Gibbs also included a clarification by Taguba in a story published in Salon:

“The photographs in that lawsuit, I have not seen,” Taguba told Salon Friday night. The actual quote in the Telegraph was accurate, Taguba said — but he was referring to the hundreds of images he reviewed as an investigator of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq — not the photos of abuse that Obama is seeking to suppress…… Taguba says the Telegraph story got one important fact right: He said he does support Obama’s decision to fight the release of the images subject to the lawsuit, even though he has not seen those images. “No other photographs should be released,” Taguba told Salon, because he worries additional images might threaten the safety of U.S. troops.

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