Feature

Abuse photos: Obama’s change of heart

After consulting with top generals, President Obama changed his mind about releasing photographs that show U.S. troops abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Barack Obama is on something of an intellectual journey,” said Jonah Goldberg in National Review Online. Until last week, he thought that the best way to improve America’s international image was to drop to his knees and beg forgiveness for our past sins. But after a few months in office, he’s gaining a more mature perspective. Last week, the president refused to release photographs that show prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan being abused by U.S. troops, thereby denying our country’s enemies a potent tool for stoking anti-American sentiment. Initially, Obama agreed to release the images, which the American Civil Liberties Union had sought through the Freedom of Information Act. But after consulting with his top generals, the president changed his mind, saying their disclosure would give extremists a valuable propaganda tool. “What a pleasant reversal,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Now that he’s responsible for protecting American lives, our once-naïve new president seems to be taking national security more seriously.

In other words, Obama is embracing yet another of George W. Bush’s shameful policies, said Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com. The Bush administration repeatedly justified its secrecy by saying that public disclosure of its illegal activities would hurt the troops. Obama has now signed on to the Washington establishment’s insistence that “if we just agree to forget” about the war crimes committed during the past eight years, “we can blissfully pretend it never happened.” But it did happen, said Karen Greenburg in The Washington Post. The photos depict Abu Ghraib–type atrocities and number in the thousands. Americans deserve to see proof that prisoner abuse was not the work of “a few bad apples” but was “systemic.”

Obama, though, understands the explosive power of these images, said Jim Hoagland, also in the Post. He knew that releasing hundreds of gruesome photos now would stir “public disgust,” and feed into the demands of the extreme Left, which is clamoring for Bush administration officials to be prosecuted and jailed. The president is too smart to allow his term in office to be dominated by that kind of partisan bloodletting. If Obama’s liberal base is surprised and disappointed, said John Dickerson in Slate.com, it shouldn’t be. Obama ran the “ultimate pragmatic campaign,” tailoring his positions to suit the moment. Now he’s being just as pragmatic as president. After eight years of a president who refused to change his mind, Obama “is betting that America is ready for a little pragmatism.”

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