In today’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was bombarded by questions from reporters about the Obama administration’s decision not to release dozens of photos showing the abuse of detainees by U.S. military personnel. Gibbs argued that releasing the photos would “provide a disincentive for detainee abuse investigation”; people would be afraid to take the photos if they knew they were going to be released. He called the release of the photos “sensationalistic”:
GIBBS: The disincentive is in the notion that every time one of these photos is taken, that it’s going to be released — that nothing is added by the release of the photo, right? The existence of the investigation is not increased because of the release of the photo. It’s just to provide, in some ways, a sensationalistic portion of that investigation. [...]
But the — I think if every time somebody took a picture of detainee abuse, if every time that — if any time any of those pictures were mandatorily going to be necessarily released, despite the fact that they were being investigated, I think that would provide a disincentive to take those pictures and investigate.
The real disincentive caused from the release of the photos is that it will hopefully caution U.S. officials from ever engaging in torture again. As the ACLU’s Amrit Singh explained, the photographs are “critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse.”
On April 23, the Justice Department said that it would release the 44 photos as part of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. At the press briefing the next day, Gibbs made clear that the Obama administration believed it was legally bound to take this action:
GIBBS: The Second Circuit Court ruled in December of 2008 that the photos had to be released. The previous administration lost a court case on that. The Department of Justice decided based on the ruling that it was hopeless to appeal, and a mandate ordering the release of those photos came Monday. And the administration, the Pentagon, and the court entered into an agreement to release those photos.
Additionally, Obama reportedly decided not to release the photos because he was concerned that it would put U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in danger of reprisal. But in April, a Pentagon spokesman told the New York Times that while officials were “still concerned that release of the pictures could make the military’s mission more difficult, that consideration was less pressing now, given that Iraq is more stable than it was two or three years ago.”
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