44, the Obama Presidency: White House Asks Court to Rethink Photos' Release

Friday, May 29, 2009


Push to Block Photos

The Obama administration asked a federal court of appeals in New York on Thursday to recall its order requiring the release of photographs held by the Pentagon that depict the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Obama, while describing the 21 photos as "not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib," said their release would "further inflame anti-American opinion" and "put our troops in danger."

The administration had initially agreed to the release, but it reversed its position after Obama viewed the images and heard from his generals, who objected to their publication.

The American Civil Liberties Union had sued for release of the photos.

The government argued Thursday that withdrawing the order is appropriate because Congress may pass legislation blocking the release and that if it does not, the administration will appeal to the Supreme Court.

The government motion also included a statement from Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, which said that the "next six to eight months are a time of particular fragility in Iraq" and that publication of the pictures would create a "substantial risk to the Nation's military personnel."

The White House and the Pentagon dismissed as false a report in a British newspaper this week that the photographs the administration has refused to release include images of rape and sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. military personnel.

"That news organization has completely mischaracterized the images," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, referring to a report in the Daily Telegraph of London. "None of the photos in question depict the images that are described in that article."

The court order, however, could apply to hundreds of other photographs in the possession of the Defense Department. The British newspaper quoted retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated detainee abuse in 2004, as saying, "These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency."

Taguba did not return phone calls requesting comment, but he appeared to be referring to the larger universe of photos, not the 21 at the center of the litigation.

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