Why Show the Pictures?
Keep them Hidden. For the third time in 60 days we wound up on opposite sides of a discussion with the administration. Beginning during the Bush administration there has been a Freedom of Information lawsuit proceeding through the court system. That lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, seeks release of those photographs depicting the alleged abuse of detainees from the War on Terror. The Bush administration had resisted the FOI request and sought to keep the pictures private. When the Obama administration came into office, the latest ruling of the court had been to uphold the FOI request and order the photo released. The ruling held that the deadline for the release of the photos was May 28. That ruling came from one of the appeals courts and could be further appealed to the US Supreme Court. Rather than make that further appeal, President Obama announced that his administration would abide by the appeals court ruling and release the photos, a decision with which The American Legion strongly disagreed. Our position was based on our conclusion that no benefit would be derived by the release and subsequent publication of the pictures. Unlike the Abu Ghraib pictures which brought to light previously unknown actions, the actions in these pictures were known generally by the American public. Investigations are already ongoing to determine if criminal activity occurred as a part of the interrogations that these pictures are part of. The release of the pictures will also undoubtedly be used by the extremists around the world but particularly by the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups around the world to inflame opinion and recruit fighters and homicide bombers, endangering our troops and civilians working in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as around the world. As this point in time, the Pakistani Government is strongly engaged in the struggle against the Taliban. If as a result of the release of these pictures, the support of the Pakistani people for that fight is lessened then the Taliban gains something more of a sanctuary on that side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. If we learned nothing else from Vietnam, we must remember the sanctuary that the Viet Cong and NVA troops found in Cambodia and never let that type of anctuary exist again for our enemies. As the mandatory release date neared, we submitted an op-ed to the Wall Street Journal over my signature opposing the administration’s coming action and urging the President to continue the appeal process to protect our troops. That op-ed was noticed by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of TN who invited us to be part of a panel discussion that she was developing. She specifically arranged the timing of the meeting of the panel so that I could attend. She was inviting other panelists to attend but included us with the characterization of The American Legion as national security experts. The meeting would up scheduled for Wednesday, May 13. I asked for that afternoon so that we could minimize the extra time away from home that this meeting was causing. Our grandson will soon be leaving after school is out to spend the summer with his Dad. We had planned three days at home for me. This incident cost us one of those three day. This is the third time in recent weeks that my time at home was reduced. While we all understand the need, sometimes the reality of fulfilling that need is troubling. Regardless the flights were scheduled and the time rearranged. We, the staff and I, spent late Wednesday morning preparing for the discussion and the press event to follow. While we were at lunch, we were notified that President Obama had changed his decision and would continue the appeals. The timeline as released by the administration stated that President Obama had actually made this decision late the prior week, had met with his chief military advisors including General Odierno, Commanding General in Iraq, on Tuesday and was announcing the decision Wednesday. That timeline runs completely parallel to our op-ed or Friday and Wednesday’s proposed meeting chaired by Rep. Blackburn and tries to leave the impression that the two timelines are completely independent. I will leave it to the reader to judge the probability of that supposed independence. This is the second instance of the administration making decisions on publication of pictures that affect the lives of our troops and their families. During the Bush administration the policy of not allowing pictures of the return of our fallen troops as the caskets were unloaded at Dover Air Force Base. The American Legion agreed with that policy. President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates reevaluated that policy recently with The American Legion taking a public stand in favor of continuing the prohibition that was in force. Secretary Gates in his decision did not agree with the Legion’s position but in the new policy did leave the decision of whether pictures would be allowed to remain in the hands of the family, a decision of which we approve. That decision will be made in the initial meetings between the family and the military contact team which we hope minimizes any pressure on the family. We trust the military to maintain that lack of pressure on the family. To date we have seen no instances of pictures that were taken being used for any purposes other than honoring the fallen warrior and their family. We sincerely hope that it stays that way. Pictures can be dangerous since there is no context inherent in the picture.