Inside Obama's Detainee Photo Reversal

This undated still photo made available by The Washington Post on Friday May 21, 2004, shows a U.S. soldier holding a dog in front an Iraqi detainee at Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. (AP Photo/The Washington Post) ** MANDATORY CREDIT: THE WASHINGTON POST**NO SALES ** AP/Washington Post

This column was written by Jeff Emanuel, a special operations military veteran and combat journalist. A director emeritus of conservative weblog RedState.com, his writings can be seen there and at Jeff Emanuel.net

Saying that no good could conceivably come of it, President Barack Obama this week reversed his administration's plan to release photographs of alleged detainee abuse dating from the Bush administration's war on terror without at least putting up the appearance of a legal fight.

"The most direct consequence of releasing [the photographs], I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger," Obama said to reporters Wednesday in an attempt to explain the rationale for his 180° reversal in policy. Less than a month ago, the administration had announced it would publicly unveil dozens of photographs of alleged abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by American servicemen and women.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2003 seeking the release of these and all other detainee photographs, didn't have to reach far into its bag of epithets when determining how to respond to Obama's decision.

"The reversal is another indication of a continuance of the Bush administration policies under the Obama administration," said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. "President Obama's promise of accountability is meaningless [and] this is inconsistent with his promise of transparency."

"It's absolutely essential that these photos be released," Singh hyperbolically declared.

Making the Right Decision

However "inconsistent" it may be with Obama's campaign promise of open and transparent government (one which he hasn't done the best job of living up to in any aspect of his four-month tenure in office), his decision to withhold these photographs of detainee abuse is the right one in this case. And where national security is concerned, it's far more important that President Obama be right and effective than that he be consistent.
Whether or not there is in fact a "legal basis for withholding the photographs," something Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, vehemently denied on Thursday, is a matter for the Obama administration and the Supreme Court to sort out in the coming weeks and months.

Far from being "absolutely essential," though, there is no tangible benefit to America or any of her citizens that could come from publishing years-old photographs of wrongdoing by a tiny number of American servicemen and women, all of whom have already been investigated and punished for their parts in those actions. The only good that could possibly have come from releasing these photographs would have been felt by the extreme anti-American left, whose insatiable appetite for "war crime" pornography demands constant feedings of similar material.

The "needs" of the extreme (and perverted) few here in the U.S. and abroad are and should be far outweighed by the fact that, internationally, the release of these images of distant-past, already-punished actions would have provided America's enemies with yet another powerfully visual tool with which to recruit future jihadists and terrorists to their cause - something we saw in spades after the 2004 release of the Abu Ghraib detainee photos.

"Thousands Of Al Qaeda Recruitment Posters"

Though the claim made by Yousef Munayyer, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, that "Abu Ghraib set the bar for obscene inhumanity" is laughable on its face (Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg and the thousands of others tortured and slaughtered by radical Islamists were unavailable to comment on Mr. Munayyer's assertion), there is no doubt the disclosure of images from the infamous coalition prison affected jihadi thought and recruitment in a way mere verbal description never could have.

"The greatest recruiting tool we had" in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq "was Abu Ghraib," a former al Qaeda leader told Senator John McCain in 2007, affirming the case made by soldiers and pundits alike, including Generals Ray Odierno (commander of Multinational Force-Iraq) and David McKiernan (outgoing commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan), that publishing these images would put even more lives at risk both at home and abroad.

In other words, quietly acquiescing to the ACLU's demand for release of these photos would have been tantamount to publishing and distributing "thousands of al-Qaeda recruitment posters," as Ben Johnson at FrontPage Magazine put it, all on the taxpayers' dime and the Obama administration's watch.

Obama acknowledged this fact himself in a speech given in Strasbourg, Germany three weeks before his Justice Department's initial decision not to fight the order to release the photographs. "When we saw what happened in Abu Ghraib, that wasn't good for our security," Obama told the German crowd. "That was a recruitment tool for terrorism."

Though it took some prompting from the commanders of our forces who are currently serving on the front lines of the war on terror, Obama finally acknowledged that the resulting effects of the Abu Ghraib photographs' release would also almost certainly hold true for these images, should they be released to the public and broadcast around the world.

During the late stages of the 2008 presidential campaign, National Review Online's Jim Geraghty famously coined the phrase "All Barack Obama statements come with an expiration date." That his decision not to challenge the release of these photographs came when it did, as opposed to after the action had been taken, is fortuitous for all who stand to suffer from increased jihadi activity and terrorist recruiting.

Now, we must simply hope his decision to fight these images' harmful publication doesn't expire before that battle has been won.
By Jeff Emanuel
Special to CBSNews.com
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