U.S. to release photos from other probes in Afghanistan, Iraq
The Obama administration agreed late Thursday to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years.
Los Angeles Times
The day in D.C.
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Sebelius troubles? The head of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, called on Obama to withdraw Kathleen Sebelius' nomination as health secretary unless she answers more questions about abortion. In the Senate, Republicans delayed a final vote until early next week, but she was expected to win confirmation. In Kansas, Sebelius, the state's governor, vetoed a measure that would have required doctors performing late-term abortions to report additional information to the state.
News conference: Obama will hold a news conference Wednesday, his 100th day in office, beginning at 5 p.m. PDT, White House officials said.
Seattle Times news services
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration agreed late Thursday to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years.
The decision will make public for the first time photos obtained in military investigations at facilities other than the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Forty four pictures that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was seeking in a court case, plus a "substantial number" of other images, will be released by May 28.
The photos, examined by Air Force and Army criminal investigators, are apparently not as shocking as those taken at Abu Ghraib, which became a symbol of U.S. mistakes in Iraq. But Pentagon officials nevertheless are concerned that the release could incite another backlash in the Middle East.
Some of the photos show military personnel intimidating or threatening detainees by pointing weapons at them, according to officials who have seen them. Military officers have been court-martialed for threatening detainees at gunpoint.
"This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush administration's claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational," said Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the ACLU, which obtained the agreement as part of a long-running legal battle for documents related to Bush-era anti-terrorism policies.
The photo-release decision comes as President Obama is trying to quell a drive to investigate Bush-era anti-terrorism practices, which was spurred in part by the release last week of Justice Department memos detailing the Bush administration's legal justifications for harsh interrogations. But the photos and a series of other possible disclosures stemming from the ACLU lawsuit threaten to fuel the controversy.
Additional disclosures to be considered in the coming weeks include transcripts of detainee interrogations by the CIA, a CIA inspector general's report that has been kept mostly secret and background materials of a Justice Department internal investigation into prisoner abuse.
In each instance, Obama and his administration are being forced to decide whether to release material entirely, disclose it with redactions or follow the lead of the Bush administration and fight in court to keep the material classified.
Last week, Obama opted to demand relatively few redactions in the Justice Department memos. Those disclosures prompted Democratic lawmakers and liberal interest groups to demand a congressional investigation — and possible prosecution — of officials of the previous administration.
With Obama trying to navigate ambitious health-care, tax and environment legislation through Congress, the White House rejected the idea of appointing its own 9/11 Commission-style review of President George W. Bush's anti-terrorism policies, fearing it could become a partisan distraction.
The release of photos and other materials threatens to heighten the political pressure facing Obama as he seeks to balance competing constituencies.
The liberal base that elected him wants wide disclosure and an investigation of Bush practices. But pursuing that course risks alienating the intelligence and military communities crucial to Obama's success as president.
Moreover, he must deflect attacks from conservatives such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, who are accusing Obama of putting the country's security at risk and who would surely blame the new president if another attack occurs.
Cheney has asked that additional documents be released showing the successes of harsh interrogation tactics, handing Obama another complicated decision.
Obama has tried to walk a fine rhetorical line, heeding liberals' calls to release the torture memos but appearing to argue against further investigation or prosecution by saying "this is a time for reflection, not retribution."
Instead, he managed to anger both constituencies.
"My sense is the president was trying to please a lot of audiences at one time and that over the last (week) he has totally failed to put the mind of the intelligence community at ease," said Mark Lowenthal, a former senior adviser to CIA Director George Tenet. "He is going to end up with a national clandestine service that will not be willing to do anything because they feel he will not be there for them when they need him."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an appearance at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Thursday that he worried about potential "backlash in the Middle East" from the releases.
"There are a number of suits that we're dealing with for detainee photographs and so on," Gates said.
"And so there is a certain inevitability, I believe, that much of this will eventually come out; much has already come out."
The Bush administration had opposed the release of the abuse photos.
The photos in question were taken between 2001 and 2006.
All predate the 2006 revision of the Army field manual that strengthened protections for detainees and prohibited all physical force from being used in interrogations.
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