Commentary: Obama right to change plans on detainee abuse photos

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

President Barack Obama has been walking a fine line on national security issues. After taking office in January he extended his previous timetable for removing most U.S. combat troops from Iraq, but last month he approved release of controversial "torture memos" from legal advisers to the previous administration. Now Obama has declared that national security would not be served by release of additional Bush-era photos of detainees in U.S. custody.

Did the president, in walking that line, lose his balance and tip too far away from the openness in government that he championed as a campaigner? Not in this case.

The photos, several years old, depict abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American Civil Liberties Union sued in 2004 – the year of the infamous Abu Ghraib photos, which came to light via a different process – to have them released. Federal courts have upheld the ACLU's stance, and 44 pictures are scheduled to be made public May 28. But, in a policy reversal, the Obama administration will now try to block that action, employing a national security argument it had not previously made (although the Bush administration had, unsuccessfully).

There's a lot going on here, in the foreground and the background.

Obama stepped up to the microphones Wednesday to say that release of the photos (which he characterized as less startling than those from Abu Ghraib) would "further inflame" anti-American sentiments and "put our troops in greater danger." It's hard to argue with that, although excessive secrecy holds its own dangers.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

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