This is an unwelcome and probably futile policy reversal from President Obama:
(CNN) -- President Obama has ordered government lawyers to object to the planned release of additional detainee photos, according to an administration official.
The Defense Department was set to release hundreds of photographs showing alleged abuse of prisoners in detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Last week, the president met with his legal team and told them that he did not feel comfortable with the release of the [Defense Department] photos because he believes their release would endanger our troops, and because he believes that the national security implications of such a release have not been fully presented to the court," the official said....
The release is in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. It follows President Obama's decision to release Bush-era CIA documents showing that the U.S. used techniques like waterboarding, considered torture by the current administration....
In a March 7 letter to the Obama administration, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, expressed concern over the new photographs.
"We know that many terrorists captured in Iraq have told American interrogators that one of the reasons they decided to join the violent jihadist war against America was what they saw on Al-Qaeda videos of abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib," the senators wrote. "Releasing these old photographs of detainee treatment now will provide new fodder to Al-Qaeda's propaganda and recruitment operations, undercut the progress you have made in our international relations, and endanger America's military and diplomatic personnel throughout the world."
The Defense Dept. had previously agreed to release the photos by May 28 as part of a lawsuit filed years ago by the ACLU. President Obama's reasoning on reversing this decision seems dubious. The more this administration is seen as continuing the policies of the previous administration, the more damage will be done to us internationally.
It's just as arguable that Al Qaeda and any other terrorist organization will be able to recruit if President Obama doesn't make a clean break with and repudiation of Bush/Cheney policies as it is that these photos will do further damage. It's not like the rest of the world doesn't know the United States tortured at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and at every other detention facility. And what "national security implications" there could be at this point should have been well hashed out. Importantly, President Obama has ended the policy of torture, and done so very publicly. Thus, further evidence of these formerly used "methods" should no longer relevant to our national security.
Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU attorney who has been working the case, responds, pointing out the tenuous legal position the administration will be taking.
"It is inconsistent not only with commitments the Obama administration has made to us and to the courts but inconsistent with the promise of transparency that President Obama has repeated so many times," he said.
Jaffer, who has filed suit for the release of these photographs under concerns over civil liberty violations and possible detainee abuse, noted that the Obama White House still had a steep hill to climb in its efforts to suppress the release of the photos. Jaffer has won his case in the district court in New York as well as a three-judge appeals court. The Bush Administration, towards the end of its term, asked the full Second Circuit Appeals Court to review the matter. They refused to do so.
"At this point," Jaffer said, "the burden is on the government because there is a court order that requires them to release these photos. So they are either going to have to seek Supreme Court review or come up with some creative strategy to get yet another hearing below the lower courts."
"These photographs are critical to the historical record so it is very disappointing... that the administration is going to try and suppress them," he added.
The primary question this leaves is why President Obama is allowing the likes of Graham, Lieberman, and the Cheneys to set the terms of the debate on torture?
Update: Think Progress has more, and a strange reversal from the Pentagon:
On April 23, the Justice Department said that it would release the 44 photos as part of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. At the press briefing the next day, Gibbs made clear that the Obama administration believed it was legally bound to take this action:
GIBBS: The Second Circuit Court ruled in December of 2008 that the photos had to be released. The previous administration lost a court case on that. The Department of Justice decided based on the ruling that it was hopeless to appeal, and a mandate ordering the release of those photos came Monday. And the administration, the Pentagon, and the court entered into an agreement to release those photos.
Additionally, Obama reportedly decided not to release the photos because he was concerned that it would put U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in danger of reprisal. But in April, a Pentagon spokesman told the New York Times that while officials were "still concerned that release of the pictures could make the military’s mission more difficult, that consideration was less pressing now, given that Iraq is more stable than it was two or three years ago." [emphasis mine]