Obama's Latest Effort to Conceal Evidence of Bush Era Crimes

It's difficult to react much to Obama's complete reversal
today of his own prior decision to release photographs depicting
extreme detainee abuse by the United States. He's left no doubt that
this is what he does: ever since he was inaugurated, Obama has taken
one extreme step after the next to keep concealed both the details and
the evidence of Bush's crimes, including rendition, https://www.salon.com/op

It's difficult to react much to Obama's complete reversal
today of his own prior decision to release photographs depicting
extreme detainee abuse by the United States. He's left no doubt that
this is what he does: ever since he was inaugurated, Obama has taken
one extreme step after the next to keep concealed both the details and
the evidence of Bush's crimes, including rendition, torture and warrantless eavesdropping. The
ACLU's Amrit Singh -- who litigated the thus-far-successful
FOIA lawsuit to compel disclosure of these photographs -- is exactly

The reversal is another indication of a continuance of the Bush administration policies under the Obama administration. President
Obama's promise of accountability is meaningless, this is inconsistent
with his promise of transparency, it violates the government's
commitment to the court.
People need to examine these abusive photographs, but also the government officials need to be held accountable.

Andrew Sullivan, one of Obama's earliest and most enthusiastic supporters, wrote of today's photograph-concealment decision and yesterday's story of Obama's pressuring Britain to conceal evidence of Binyam Mohamed's torture:

Slowly but surely,
Obama is owning the cover-up of his predecessors' war crimes. But
covering up war crimes, refusing to prosecute them, promoting those
associated with them, and suppressing evidence of them are themselves
violations of Geneva and the UN Convention.
So Cheney begins to successfully coopt his successor. . .

extending and deepening the war in Afghanistan, to suppressing evidence
of rampant and widespread abuse and torture of prisoners under Bush, to
thuggishly threatening the British with intelligence cut-off if they
reveal the brutal torture inflicted on Binyam Mohamed, Obama now has
new cheer-leaders: Bill Kristol, Michael Goldfarb and Max Boot. . . .

of us who held out hope that the Obama administration would not be
actively covering up the brutal torture of a Gitmo prisoner who was
subject to abuse in several countries must now concede the obvious. They're covering it up - in such a crude and obvious fashion that it is actually a crime in Britain.

John Aravosis said Obama's logic was "a bit Bushian." Steve Hynd observes that "Obama Trades Our Principles For Cheneyism." TPM decalres: "Obama falls back on Bushisms." Dan Froomkin writes: "Obama Joins the Cover-Up." I'll just note a few points for now about Obama's efforts to keep these photographs concealed:

(1) Think about what Obama's rationale would justify. Obama's claim
-- that release of the photographs "would be to further inflame
anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger" -- means
we should conceal or even outright lie about all the bad things we do
that might reflect poorly on us. For instance, if an Obama bombing
raid slaughters civilians in Afghanistan (as has happened several times already), then, by this reasoning, we ought to lie about what happened and conceal the evidence depicting what was done -- as the Bush administration did
-- because release of such evidence would "would be to further inflame
anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger."
Indeed, evidence of our killing civilians in Afghanistan inflames
anti-American sentiment far more than these photographs would. Isn't
it better to hide the evidence showing the bad things we do?

the proper reaction to heinous acts by our political leaders is not to
hold them accountable but, instead, to hide evidence of what they did.
That's the warped mentality Obama is endorsing today, and has been
endorsing since January 20.

(2) How can anyone
who supports what Obama is doing here complain about the CIA's
destruction of their torture videos? The torture videos, like the
torture photos, would, if released, generate anti-American sentiment
and make us look bad. By Obama's reasoning, didn't the CIA do exactly
the right thing by destroying them?

(3) This is
just another manifestation of the generalized Beltway religion that we
should suppress and ignore the heinous acts our government committed
and to which we acquiesced, because if we just agree to forget about
all of it, then we can blissfully pretend that it never happened and
avoid doing anything about it.

(4) Obama's claim
that he has to hide this evidence to protect our soldiers is the sort
of crass, self-serving exploitation of "The Troops" which was the
rancid hallmark of Bush/Cheney rhetoric. Everyone knows what the real
effect of these photographs would be: they would highlight just how
brutal and criminal was our treatment of detainees in our custody, and
further underscore how amoral and lawless are Obama's calls that we
Look To the Future, Not the Past. Manifestly, that is why they're
being suppressed.

(5) For all of you
defend-Obama-at-all-cost cheerleaders who are about to descend into my
comment section and other online venues to explain how Obama did the
right thing because of National Security, I have this question: if you
actually want to argue that concealing these photographs is the right
thing to do, then you must have been criticizing Obama when, two weeks
ago, he announced that he would release them. Otherwise, it's pretty
clear that you don't have any actual beliefs other than: "I support
what Obama does because it's Obama who does it." So for those arguing
today that concealing these photographs is the right thing to do: were
you criticizing Obama two weeks ago for announcing he would release
these photographs?

Also, the OLC torture memos released several
weeks ago surely increased anti-American sentiment. Indeed, those on
the Right who objected to the release of those memos cited exactly that
argument. How can anyone cheer on Obama's decision today to conceal
these photographs while also cheering on his decision to release the
OLC memos? Those who have any intellectual coherence would have to
oppose both or support both. Those two decisions only have one fact
in common: Obama made them. Thus, the only way to cheer on both
decisions is to be guided by the modified Nixonian mantra: what Obama
does is right because Obama does it.

Also, during the Bush years, were you -- along with Bill Kristol and National Review
-- attacking the ACLU and Congressional Democrats for demanding that
the Bush administration stop concealing evidence of its torture, on the
ground that disclosure of such evidence would harm America's national
security? Were you defending Bush then for doing what Obama is doing

(6) If these photographs don't shed any new
light on what our Government did -- if all they do is replicate what we
already know from the Abu Ghraib photographs -- then how can it
possibly be the case that they will do any damage? To argue that they
will harm how we are perceived is, necessarily, to acknowledge that
they reveal new information that is not already widely known.

(7) We
are supposed to have what is called Open Government in the United
States. The actions of our government -- and the evidence documenting
it -- is presumptively available to the public. Only an authoritarian
would argue that evidence of government actions should be kept secret
in the absence of a compelling reason to release it.

The presumption is the opposite: documents in the government's possession relating to what it does is presumptively public
in the absence of compelling reasons to keep it concealed. That the
documents reflect poorly on the government is not such a reason to keep
them concealed. If it were, then it would always be preferable to have
political leaders cover-up their crimes on the ground that disclosing
them would reflect poorly on the U.S. and spur anti-American sentiment.
Open government is necessary precisely because only transparency
deters political leaders from doing heinous acts in the first place.

(.pdf) is the letter the DOJ sent to the court this afternoon, advising
the judge that they changed their minds "at the highest levels of
Government" and would not, as previously promised, release the
photographs, but instead would attempt to appeal the Second Circuit's
decision compelling their release to the Roberts Supreme Court.

UPDATE II: In comments, Paul Daniel Ash addresses
the Obama supporters who are defending Obama's decision to keep these
photographs concealed on the ground that "no good would come" from

I'm pretty jaded, but even I'm
outraged and saddened by the number of voices being raised in this
comment thread supporting the decision to conceal these photos.

good will come?" Would we even have had an Abu Ghraib scandal without
the pictures of bloody prisoners and men cowering in front of dogs? "No
good?" Is there or is there not an active debate in this country about
whether or not torture is acceptable? "No good?" Did a United States
Senator not say just today,
in the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the
Courts, that torture techniques have been used for the past five
centuries because "apparently they work?"

"No good will come?"

it's pretty hard to believe that the people who are arguing that "no
good will come" from release of these photos either (a) lived through
the impact of the Abu Ghraib photos and/or (b) are living through the
"torture debate" we are now having.

Photographs convey the
reality of things in a way that mere words cannot. They prevent people
who want to deny what was done the ability to do so. They force
citizens to face what their country did and what they are now
justifying and advocating. They impede the ability of political
leaders to use euphemisms to obscure the truth. They show in graphic
detail what the effects are of sanctioning torture policies. They
prove that this was about more than "dunking three terrorists into
water." They highlight the fact that no decent person believes that
this should all just be forgotten and its victims told that they have
no right to have accountability. That's precisely why the photographs
are being suppressed: because of how much good they would do.

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