Turnabout: Obama Blocks Release of Torture Photos; Pelosi was Told of Torture Use
The U.S. president has ordered to stop the release of compromising photos depicting the abuse of prisoners in U.S. detention after initially agreeing to their publication.
The Defense Department was set to release hundreds of torture photographs Afghanistan and Iraq by May 28.
President Barack Obama, however, on Wednesday reversed the decision.
According to a senior U.S. official, President Obama now ‘strongly’ opposes the publicizing of the photos, saying the move would inflame “the theaters of war”, jeopardize U.S. forces, and make the life of troops based in Iraq and Afghanistan “more difficult.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had fought for five years to win a court order necessitating the disclosure of the pictures roughly numbering 44.
The union launched its campaign following the emergence of the first images of “abuse, torture, sodomy and homicide” of inmates by U.S. personnel in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The pictures, which portrayed religious humiliation of the prisoners, sparked worldwide outcries and forced Congress to pass the Detainee Treatment Act to silence the scandals.
The suspended pictures are believed to have been unofficially taken by the troops themselves.
The ACLU had claimed that the photographs “provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib.”
The reversal came after hectic efforts by lawmakers like Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to put the decision off, Time reported.
“The release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been clearly prohibited can serve no public good, but will empower al-Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country’s image, and endanger our men and women in uniform,” the two had claimed writing to the president.
In regards to the government lawyers who authorized the use of torture during the previous administration, the commander-in-chief has been likewise blowing hot and cold. In April, it took him days to reverse his decision on the issue twice before leaving it at the discretion of the attorney general.
Senior ex-officials like former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are at risk of prosecution over their alleged involvement in sanctioning acts of torture.
A former U.S. official has accused the administration of George Bush, the former president, of authorising “unprecedented” acts of abuse during the interrogation of terror suspects.
Phillip Zelikow told a U.S. senate hearing on torture practices that the Bush administration was guilty of a “collective failure” over the interrogation of “war on terror” detainees.
“The U.S. government over the past seven years adopted an unprecedented programme in American history of cruelly calculated dehumanising abuse and physical torment to extract information,” Zelikow said on Wednesday.
“This was a mistake, perhaps disastrous one. It was a collective failure in which a number of officials and members of congress and staffers of both parties played a part, endorsing a CIA programme of physical coercion.”
The Bush administration has been widely criticised for allowing the use of “waterboarding”, which simulates the sensation of drowning, sleep deprivation and other interrogation methods, all practices heavily criticised by human rights groups.
Zelikow, who served as an aide to Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state, also testified that in 2006, former administration officials sought to collect and destroy copies of a memo he wrote opposing those methods.
“I heard the memo was not considered appropriate for further discussion and that copies of my memo should be collected and destroyed.”
The hearings come as Barack Obama, the U.S. president, challenged the Pentagon’s planned release of photos depicting abuse of detainees in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The White House said he wasacting on advice from military commanders that publishing the photos could endanger U.S. troops. >>>
A source close to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now confirms that Pelosi was told in February 2003 by her intelligence aide, Michael Sheehy, that waterboarding was actually used on CIA detainee Abu Zubaydah.
This appears to contradict Pelosi’s account that she was never told waterboarding actually happened, only that the administration was considering using it. >>>
As noted earlier, this argument completely abandons any semblance of oversight responsibility. It amounts to arguing “if you can’t believe the Bush White House on international law, who can you believe?” What is particularly striking is that Pelosi is using precisely the same argument that she rejected from Jane Harman on the unlawful surveillance program. Harman insisted that, while she was the critical oversight authority in Congress, she had no knowledge of the law in the area and specifically FISA. She just had to accept the Bush Administration’s insistence that it was legal and did not even have the ability to ask for general information on the law in the area. Now, Pelosi is saying that she just had to accept that a torture program was lawful because the White House said it was. The primary oversight responsibility of these members is to be sure that the Executive Branch is complying with the laws written by Congress. It makes a mockery of the system for Pelosi and Harman to simply take their word for it. The federal law gives Pelosi and Harman the obligation to serve as a check on executive authority, but they believe that this role compels them to accept whatever they are told on the legality of the program. They are simply informed and have not obligations or responsibilities — even when they are given a description of torture.
Now we have an aide stating that Pelosi was told about the use of torture and did not object. It is not clear how not objecting fits her statement that “They have never gotten any comfort from me on any of these issues.” I guess that means that she did not join them in the waterboarding by holding a towel. Obviously, if the aide is telling the truth, Pelosi has lied to the American people on a subject of the utmost importance: war crimes.
Putting aside holding Pelosi accountable for her failure to act and later alleged lies, there remains the increasing political machinations around the torture question. Democratic leaders continue to address the issue of the investigation of war crimes in purely political and personal terms. They continue to manipulate the facts, even in the case of Majority Leader Harry Reid denying that there is sufficient facts for even an investigation by a prosecutor. It is not clear how long Democrats will continue to excuse the conduct of their own leaders while condemning the conduct of Republican leaders. These Democrats helped cover up the torture program for their own personal interests and are now struggling to avoid accountability for their past decisions. The simplest way to gain any credibility on this question is to remove it from the political to the legal realm — with the appointment of a special prosecutor. >>>