It's always disappointing to see someone you like do something you don't like. As much as I like President Obama, I voted for him knowing full well that he would occasionally disappoint. CNN reported today that Obama requested that government lawyers oppose a court-ordered release, pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request, of photographs of allegedly abused detainees being held by the United States military in Iraq and Afghanistan is one such case.
"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," Obama said. "In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them would be to further inflame anti-American opinion, and to put our troops in greater danger." He also said that the photos, "are not particularly sensational, especially when compared with the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib."
At this point, it is no secret to anybody anywhere that some individuals in the custody of the U.S. military have been abused and/or tortured. To that end, the release of the photos would hardly yield any Earth-shattering revelations. While the photos might or might not be remarkable in and of themselves, the are part of a recorded history of treatment of detainees in American custody. If they truly are unremarkable, then certainly nothing on the order of a state secret would be at stake if they were released.
For a democracy to function properly, its citizens must have access to enough accurate information about the actions of its elected officials to be able to make educated judgments as it selects its leaders. To that extent, I can't imagine what the big deal is, particularly if the unsensational photos aren't revealing anything in the order of a state secret or are not sensitive to current military operations.
As far as inflaming anti-American sentiment, perhaps the opposite could be true if the photos were to be released within the right public relations environment. This is perhaps a missed opportunity for the Obama Administration in both a political sense here at home and in a public-relations sense abroad and in the Muslim world in particular. The Administration, in an effort to illustrate a break from the Bush years, could release the photos and publicly point out that such detainee treatment was the product of Bush's foreign policy and such imagery could be used to recast the image of America's current foreign policy as one that is more just. For the moment, the decision to try to withhold the photos makes the Obama Administration a sort of passive co-conspirator with the Bush Administration in an attempt to keep the truth in the dark, despite such obfuscation having been a major grievance against the Bush Administration when they held power.