Obama Opposes Releasing Photos of U.S. Detainee Abuse
In a sharp reversal, the White House announced Wednesday the administration will not release hundreds of photos potentially showing U.S. military personnel abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A senior administration official told FOX News that President Obama told his legal advisers last week that he did not feel comfortable with the release of the photos because he believes they would endanger U.S. troops, and that the national security implications of such a release have not been fully presented in federal court.
"Obama would be the last to excuse the actions depicted in these photos," the official said. "That is why the Department of Defense investigated these cases, and why individuals have been punished through prison sentences, discharges and a range of other punitive measures.
"But the president strongly believes that the release of these photos, particularly at this time, would only serve the purpose of inflaming the theaters of war, jeopardizing U.S. forces, and making our job more difficult in places like Iraq and Afghanistan," reads a statement from the White House.
The Pentagon had planned to release the photos by May 28 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. That decision was made after the Justice Department lost its latest round in federal court and concluded that any further appeal probably would be fruitless.
But on Tuesday, the president raised the issue of these photos with Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, during a White House meeting and told him of his decision to argue against this release, the official said.
The ACLU immediately criticized the decision.
"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.
The group has claimed the release of the photos will help the American people decide whether the abuse was widespread or, as the Bush administration purported, bad acts by rogue actors.
Some lawmakers had urged Obama to fight the release of the photos because they feared it would turn into a sequel to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, which caused an international backlash against the U.S. with photos in 2004 of smirking U.S. soldiers posing with detainees, some naked, being held on leashes or in painful positions.
Nine U.S. soldiers were eventually found guilty in the Abu Ghraib abuse case.
Whether the new photos are as repugnant as those from Abu Ghraib is still an open question. But one U.S. official told FOX News that hundreds of photos are involved, drawn from military investigations into alleged abuse between 2001 and 2005.