Obama Opposes Release Of Abuse Photos

(CBS)
UPDATED In a reversal of his past position, President Obama is opposing the planned release of photos allegedly showing prisoner abuse by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan out of concern that doing so will put U.S. troops at risk.

It is "my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals," the president said Wednesday afternoon. "In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger."

"Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse," he added.

The president said that the photos "are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib," adding they are associated with investigations that have already been closed. But, he said, "they do represent conduct that did not conform with the Army Manual."

Last month, Justice Department officials said they would not fight a court order from federal appeals judges that the photos must be released. The Pentagon had planned to release 44 photos by May 28th, and potentially more at a later date. On April 24th, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said appealing the court decision on the photos was "hopeless."

Now, however, the administration wants the matter revisited in the courts.

Gibbs said at his press briefing Wednesday that Mr. Obama feels the government did not initially make "the strongest case regarding the release of these photos" to the courts. He argued that the White House is now advancing a new, "compelling" argument against releasing the photos based on national security.

White House sources told CBS News that the president met with his legal team last week and directed his counsel to object to the release of the photos. At a meeting Tuesday with General Roy Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, the president discussed his decision to oppose the release of the photos, the sources said.

In his comments Wednesday afternoon, the president said the incidents depicted in the photos were "investigated long before I took office," and said those who acted irresponsible had been punished. He also reiterated his position that "any abuse of detainees is unacceptable."

"It is against our values," he said. "It endangers our security. It will not be tolerated."

Military officials have expressed concerns to the president about the release of the photos in recent weeks. Photographs released in 2004 of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison facility inflamed anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.

The president's move was quickly criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued for the release of the photos.

"The decision to suppress the photos is profoundly inconsistent with the promise of transparency that President Obama has made time after time," ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said, according to the Associated Press.

On his second day in office, the president said "transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

"Information will not be withheld just because I say so," he said. "It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution."

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham last week wrote the president opposing the release of the photos, saying that doing so "can serve no public good, but will empower al-Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country's image, and endanger our men and women in uniform."

The move comes not long after the president took criticism from some quarters for his decision to release previously classified memos outlining controversial interrogation techniques such as waterbording during the Bush administration.

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