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Torture Photos: To Release Or Keep Classified?

The head of the American Civil Liberties Union argued today that a release of the military torture photos is an "essential" step to reaffirm American credibility.

"When we're talking about 2,000 photos that talk about abuse or torture under American custody, we're not talking about a few rogue apples," executive director Anthony Romero said on CBS News' Face The Nation. "We're not talking about a few rogue soldiers. We're talking about decisions made at the highest levels of our government. And the only way to deal with that would be to have an investigations and prosecutions to ensure accountability."

Romero (left) added that, "the release of the photos, the release of the documents, the release of the memos that we have been arguing in court for six years is an essential part of ensuring that our government gets back on track."

A federal court had ordered the pictures be released, a decision previously supported by President Barack Obama. But this week the president announced he would seek to block their release.

Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.) argued that the photos should be kept classified.

"They serve absolutely no purpose and it is absolutely wrong to say this was approved at the highest levels of government. Not just President Bush but President Obama," he said.

He agreed that those involved in torture should be punished, but argued that the perpetrators of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison had already been tried. King also said, "to somehow think that, by floating all these pictures out here, somehow we're going to find that somebody at a high level was involved ... is absolutely wrong."

King said a release of such photos puts American troops in danger and "serves no purpose other than … to denigrate and downgrade the military of the United States."

Meanwhile, Romero said he is sure at some point the photos would be released to the world community. "The question for this president as he inherits a terrible mess, a terrible mess left to him by his predecessors, is, how do you make a clean break with that past? How do you ensure that you put us back on the footing that is going to restore our standing at home and abroad?"

Contrarily, King suggested Mr. Obama sign an executive order barring their release. "I would just say, let the American people decide if they want to believe the American Civil Liberties Union or President Obama," he said.

When asked about Dick Cheney's request to declassify CIA memos on interrogations (with the stated claim that such revelations would support his assertions about the success of the Bush administration's interrogation practices), Romero said, "I actually agree with Vice President Cheney. Show me the proof. I think it's a bluff. Frankly, show me the proof. You can redact the documents to make sure that any information gleaned doesn't jeopardize national security. We shouldn't have classified information, but show us the extent to which that information is actually valid."

Romero cited a Vanity Fair interview with Robert Mueller in which the FBI director said no credible evidence of impending terror attacks was obtained through the use of torture.

"The fact is George Tenet, who was appointed head of the CIA by Bill Clinton. says they did work," said King. "The fact is, General Hayden, who was appointed head of the NSA by Bill Clinton and then head of the CIA by President Bush, said they did work."

"Show me the proof," said Romero."

More from Face The Nation (5.17.09):

  • King: Trying Detainees In U.S. "Insanity"
  • Read The Complete Transcript> (pdf)

    To watch Peter King and Anthony Romero's debate click on the video player below.

    To watch a discussion on the selection of a new Supreme Court Justice with CBS News political consultant John Dickerson and Joan Biskupic of USA Today click on the video player below.