As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Most Transparent Administration In History"

Sorry, I was out for a bit.

There was an expectation of this today, and now the Obama Administration made it official - they're going back to court to block the release of thousands of photographs from Afghanistan and Iraq of detainee abuse sought by the ACLU.

President Obama said on Wednesday that he is seeking to block the release of photographs that depict American military personnel abusing captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, worrying that the images could “further inflame anti-American opinion.”

As he left the White House to fly to Arizona for an evening commencement address, Mr. Obama briefly explained his abrupt reversal on releasing the photographs. He said the pictures, which he has reviewed, “are not particularly sensational, but the conduct did not conform with the Army manual.”

He did not take questions from reporters, but said disclosing the photos would have “a chilling effect” on future attempts to investigate detainee abuse.

The president’s decision marks a sharp reversal from a decision made last month by the Pentagon, which agreed in a case with the American Civil Liberties Union to release photographs showing incidents at Abu Ghraib and a half-dozen other prisons. At the time, the president signed off on the decision, saying he agreed with releasing the photos.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said that the president met last week “with his legal team and told them that he did not feel comfortable with the release of the D.O.D. photos because he believes their release would endanger our troops.”

This may be the most Bushian thing Obama has done, not necessarily because of the action, but because of the rationale. First off, the idea that the release of the photos would endanger the troops looks over the fact that the troops are in danger RIGHT NOW because of their placement in harm's way in two unnecessary and failed wars. We've heard all this happy talk about the war in Iraq, yet one set of photos would spark a revolution? I think it betrays a naivete about what the Iraqis already know about detainee abuse. After all, they have, um, access to those who were abused, namely their relatives.

Second, Obama said that the release would have a "chilling effect" on other attempts to investigate abuse. How? If anyone stopped taking photos because of their release, that would have already happened after the release of the pictures in Abu Ghraib. Look, the Defense Department wants everything they do to remain secret. But this is a democracy, and I dare say that the American taxpayer has paid for those photos. We deserve an accounting. And if Obama thinks that denying the EVENTUAL release (he'll lose this in court) will somehow mute the calls for an independent investigation over torture, clearly the opposite will happen.

I hope the stars are out of everyone's eyes with respect to Obama now. And this reversal is sadly not isolated, particularly on national security and civil liberties issues. They want to revive the discredited military commissions process, and sidestep a criminal justice system that has worked for 225 years in favor of what amounts to a kangaroo court. They threatened Britain to keep quiet over evidence showing the torture of Binyam Mohamed, or else they would cut off cooperation with the British government on terror operations and intelligence. They have continued the practice of declaring the state secrets privilege to shut down judicial review of past actions of the executive branch. On these issues, Obama has offered no change whatsoever, but an allegiance to very right-wing ideas about security and privacy and civil liberties. It's shameful.

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