Posts Tagged ‘photos’

Iran: List of 72 dead protesters published by opposition web site

September 9, 2009

homylafayette Iran News, Sep 7, 2009

The Norooz news site, close to the Islamic Iran Participation Front, published a list of 72 ‘martyrs who have been identified thus far’ on Friday, September 4. The list has been compiled by the committee set up by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi to investigate the deaths and arrests following the election.

The following is a translation of the article and accompanying list posted by Norooz.

To elevate these individuals beyond statistics, I’ve added photos, footage, and additional information in italics when possible. I’ll update this list when more information becomes available.

In recent days, numerous inaccurate statistics on the number of dead protesters have been published by the coup plotters. The latest incorrect information was given by the head of the Revolutionary Guards. In response to such baseless remarks which aim to whitewash the situation and distract public opinion from the crimes committed during the post-election events, Norooz news site is publishing the names of the martyrs so that slumbering consciences may perhaps be awakened, so that the process of hiding clear facts may come to an end, that they may accept that such acts and crimes were carried out by the coup’s agents, and that they may stop covering up these crimes.

Continues >>

Obama Presses Supreme Court to Block Release of Abuse Photos

August 11, 2009

Insists Release Would Pose ‘Significant Risk’ to Military

by Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com,  August 10, 2009

The Obama Administration has today asked the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision which would require the Pentagon to release dozens of heretofore unseen photos of the abuse of prisoners in US military custody, claiming the release would pose a significant risk to the military.

The photos of abuse at several prisons have been a matter of no small controversy. The Pentagon agreed with the judge that the photos could be safely released in April, but several weeks later President Obama insisted that the photos would have to remain secret because they might “further inflame anti-American opinion.”

Officials say that the reversal in the administration’s position came at the behest of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who reportedly predicted that “Baghdad will burn” if the photos ever see the light of day and warned it could delay the US pullout.

Though President Obama had previously claimed that the photos didn’t contain anything sensational, the Justice Department filing with the Supreme Court reveals that several of the photos include soldiers pointing guns at hooded prisoners and one includes a soldier “acting as if” he is anally raping a detainee with a broom handle. The ACLU has been spearheading the effort to secure the photos’ release.

Hiroshima, 64 years ago

August 6, 2009

The news stories in photographs by Alan Taylor

The Boston.Com, Aug 5, 2009


Tomorrow, August 6th, marks 64 years since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan by the United States at the end of World War II. Targeted for military reasons and for its terrain (flat for easier assessment of the aftermath), Hiroshima was home to approximately 250,000 people at the time of the bombing. The U.S. B-29 Superfortress bomber “Enola Gay” took off from Tinian Island very early on the morning of August 6th, carrying a single 4,000 kg (8,900 lb) uranium bomb codenamed “Little Boy”. At 8:15 am, Little Boy was dropped from 9,400 m (31,000 ft) above the city, freefalling for 57 seconds while a complicated series of fuse triggers looked for a target height of 600 m (2,000 ft) above the ground. At the moment of detonation, a small explosive initiated a super-critical mass in 64 kg (141 lbs) of uranium. Of that 64 kg, only .7 kg (1.5 lbs) underwent fission, and of that mass, only 600 milligrams was converted into energy – an explosive energy that seared everything within a few miles, flattened the city below with a massive shockwave, set off a raging firestorm and bathed every living thing in deadly radiation. Nearly 70,000 people are believed to have been killed immediately, with possibly another 70,000 survivors dying of injuries and radiation exposure by 1950. Today, Hiroshima houses a Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum near ground zero, promoting a hope to end the existence of all nuclear weapons. (34 photos total)
Continues >>

Leading Rights Groups Call On Obama To Release Prisoner Abuse Photos

June 1, 2009

ACLU Calls On Court To Adhere To Mandate Requiring Release Of Abuse Photos

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU, June 1, 2009

NEW YORK – Several of the nation’s leading human rights and civil liberties organizations sent a letter to President Obama today urging him to release photos depicting the abuse of detainees by U.S. personnel overseas.

The letter, signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and dozens of other groups, calls on the president to reconsider his decision to block the release of the photos. It states, “The hallmark of an open society is that we do not conceal information that reflects poorly on us – we expose it to the light of day, so that wrongdoers can be held accountable and future abuses prevented.”

“The disclosure of these photographs serves as a further reminder that abuse of prisoners in U.S.-administered detention centers was systemic,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “Some of the abuse occurred because senior civilian and military officials created a culture of impunity in which abuse was tolerated, and some of the abuse was expressly authorized. It’s imperative that senior officials who condoned or authorized abuse now be held accountable for their actions.”

Also today, the ACLU asked a federal appeals court to uphold its earlier ruling that the government must release the photos. On May 28, the government filed a motion asking the court to recall its mandate ordering their release, and today the ACLU filed its opposition to that motion.

“The public has an undeniable right to see these photos. As disturbing as they may be, it is critical that the American people know the full truth about the abuse that occurred in their name. The government’s decision to suppress the photos is fundamentally inconsistent with President Obama’s own promise of transparency and accountability,” said Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the ACLU. “The government has failed to show any good cause for the court to recall its mandate that the photos be released, and we are confident the court will uphold its original order.”

In September 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered the government to turn over the photos in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. The Obama administration originally indicated that it would not appeal that decision and would release the photos, but abruptly reversed its commitment to do so shortly before the agreed-upon deadline.

In addition to Jaffer and Singh, attorneys on the case are Judy Rabinovitz of the national ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Lawrence S. Lustberg and Jenny Brooke Condon of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C.; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

More information about the ACLU’s FOIA lawsuit, including today’s filing, is online at: www.aclu.org/torturefoia

The full text of the letter to President Obama is below and available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/39709res20090601.html

Continued >>

The hidden massacre: Sri Lanka’s final offensive against Tamil Tigers

May 29, 2009

The Times, UK, May 29, 2009

Catherine Philp in Colombo

More than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most as a result of government shelling, an investigation by The Times has revealed.

The number of casualties is three times the official figure.

The Sri Lankan authorities have insisted that their forces stopped using heavy weapons on April 27 and observed the no-fire zone where 100,000 Tamil men, women and children were sheltering. They have blamed all civilian casualties on Tamil Tiger rebels concealed among the civilians.

Aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony tell a different story. With the world’s media and aid organisations kept well away from the fighting, the army launched a fierce barrage that began at the end of April and lasted about three weeks. The offensive ended Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war with the Tamil Tigers, but innocent civilians paid the price.

Confidential United Nations documents acquired by The Times record nearly 7,000 civilian deaths in the no-fire zone up to the end of April. UN sources said that the toll then surged, with an average of 1,000 civilians killed each day until May 19, the day after Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, was killed. That figure concurs with the estimate made to The Times by Father Amalraj, a Roman Catholic priest who fled the no-fire zone on May 16 and is now interned with 200,000 other survivors in Manik Farm refugee camp. It would take the final toll above 20,000. “Higher,” a UN source told The Times. “Keep going.”

Some of the victims can be seen in the photograph above, which shows the destruction of the flimsy refugee camp. In the bottom right-hand corner, sand mounds show makeshift burial grounds. Other pictures show a more orderly military cemetery, believed to be for hundreds of rebel fighters. One photograph shows rebel gun emplacements next to the refugee camp.

Independent defence experts who analysed dozens of aerial photographs taken by The Times said that the arrangement of the army and rebel firing positions and the narrowness of the no-fire zone made it unlikely that Tiger mortar fire or artillery caused a significant number of deaths. “It looks more likely that the firing position has been located by the Sri Lankan Army and it has then been targeted with air-burst and ground-impact mortars,” said Charles Heyman, editor of the magazine Armed Forces of the UK.

On Wednesday, Sri Lanka was cleared of any wrongdoing by the UN Human Rights Council after winning the backing of countries including China, Egypt, India and Cuba.

A spokesman for the Sri Lankan High Commission in London said: “We reject all these allegations. Civilians have not been killed by government shelling at all. If civilians have been killed, then that is because of the actions of the LTTE [rebels] who were shooting and killing people when they tried to escape.”

Abu Ghraib abuse photos ‘show rape’

May 28, 2009

Photographs of alleged prisoner abuse which Barack Obama is attempting to censor include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse, it has emerged.

By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent and Paul Cruickshank
Telegraph.co.uk, 28 May 2009

Iraq prison abuse: Abu Ghraib abuse photos 'show rape'

A previous image of Iraq prison abuse

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

The graphic nature of some of the images may explain the US President’s attempts to block the release of an estimated 2,000 photographs from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan despite an earlier promise to allow them to be published.

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

In April, Mr Obama’s administration said the photographs would be released and it would be “pointless to appeal” against a court judgment in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But after lobbying from senior military figures, Mr Obama changed his mind saying they could put the safety of troops at risk.

Earlier this month, he said: “The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

It was thought the images were similar to those leaked five years ago, which showed naked and bloody prisoners being intimidated by dogs, dragged around on a leash, piled into a human pyramid and hooded and attached to wires.

Mr Obama seemed to reinforce that view by adding: “I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

The latest photographs relate to 400 cases of alleged abuse between 2001 and 2005 in Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Mr Obama said the individuals involved had been “identified, and appropriate actions” taken.

Maj Gen Taguba’s internal inquiry into the abuse at Abu Ghraib, included sworn statements by 13 detainees, which, he said in the report, he found “credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.”

Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: “I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.”

The translator was an American Egyptian who is now the subject of a civil court case in the US.

Three detainees, including the alleged victim, refer to the use of a phosphorescent tube in the sexual abuse and another to the use of wire, while the victim also refers to part of a policeman’s “stick” all of which were apparently photographed.

Rights Groups Slam Bid to Suppress Abuse Pics

May 15, 2009
by William Fisher | Antiwar.com, May 15, 2009

President Barack Obama’s decision Wednesday to object to the planned release of photos showing abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan has drawn quiet praise from the military and some in Congress – and outspoken scorn from human rights advocates, a number of legal scholars and religious leaders, and many on the left of his Democratic Party.

The release, originally scheduled for May 28, was ordered by a federal appeals court in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Obama Justice Department initially indicated it had run out of legal options and would comply with the court order.

But Wednesday, the president made a 180-degree U-turn and ordered his lawyers to go back to court to appeal the decision. It is likely the case will eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

At a press conference, Obama said that, “Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable. It is against our values. It endangers our security. It will not be tolerated.”

However, he argued that “the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

“These photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib,” Obama added, in an apparent contradiction.

Photographs released in 2006 of detainees being abused and humiliated at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Iraq sparked widespread outrage and led to convictions for several prison guards and the ouster of the prison’s commander. The Pentagon shut down the prison in the wake of the scandal but it reopened under Iraqi control earlier this year.

It is being widely reported in the U.S. press that two factors played significant roles in the president’s turnabout.

One was objections from top military leaders, concerned that release of the images would inflame the Muslim world at the moment when the U.S. is planning to draw down its troops from Iraq and initiate a new counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

The second factor is Obama’s scheduled Jun. 4 speech in Egypt; some in the administration were reportedly worried that the photos would blunt the president’s message of reconciliation with the Muslim community by providing fresh fodder for the anti-U.S. press in the Middle East.

Those said to be making this case to the White House include Robert Gates, the secretary of defense; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander; Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq; and Gen. David McKiernan, the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Some influential members of Congress have also been urging Obama not to release the photos. They include Senator Lindsay Graham, a conservative Republican from South Carolina and a long-time military lawyer in the Air Force Reserve; and Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut. Graham is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Lieberman is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

The two senators wrote to Obama on Mar. 7, “Releasing these old photographs of detainee treatment now will provide new fodder to al-Qaeda’s propaganda and recruitment operations, undercut the progress you have made in our international relations, and endanger America’s military and diplomatic personnel throughout the world.”

Support for the Obama decision has also came from some veterans’ groups. David Rehbein, the national commander of the American Legion, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that nothing good can come from the release of the photographs.

“Other than self-flagellation by certain Americans, riots and future terrorist acts, what else do people expect will come from the release of these photographs?” he asked.

But this reasoning has failed to impress human rights groups and some religious leaders, many on the Left of the Democratic Party, and some spokesmen for the Right.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told IPS, “The Obama administration’s effort to suppress the photos is disappointing, particularly because President Obama has made a very public commitment to government transparency.”

“These photos would provide further evidence that abuse was systemic rather than aberrational and further evidence that abuse was the result of policy. The public has a right to see these photographs, and the Obama administration has no legal basis for withholding them,” he said.

Human Rights First argues that releasing the photos is vital. The group says it has set up a nonpartisan inquiry to “evaluate the full cost of abuses, look at how we got there, and come up with safeguards so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.”

Amnesty International USA’s executive director, Larry Cox, said, “Today’s decision to hold the torture photos only points more firmly to the urgent need for an investigation to expose, prosecute and finally close the book on torture. The American people have been lied to, and government officials who authorized and justified abusive policies have been given a pass.”

Criticism of Obama’s decision also came from some conservatives.

Bruce Fein, chairman of the American Freedom Agenda and a senior Justice Department official during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, told IPS, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. To maintain that the more grisly the abuses or torture revealed by the photos, the greater the urgency of secrecy to prevent infuriating foreigners is a page from George Orwell’s 1984.”

Some religious leaders are also critical of Obama’s decision. Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, told IPS, “President Obama promised to make his administration ‘the most open and transparent in history.’ It is unfortunate that he appears to have chosen to backpedal on that promise on the issue of U.S.-sponsored torture.”

“Not only should he allow the release of these photos, but he should also move to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate and report on our use of torture since 9/11,” Killmer said.

Legal scholars are also expressing opposition to Obama’s decision. Typical is Prof. Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois law school.

He told IPS, “This tragic, misguided, and unprincipled reversal seems to be consistent with the fact that instead of getting a real ‘change’ on policies under the Obama administration, the American people are experiencing continuity across the board with those of the discredited and criminal Bush administration when it comes to international law, human rights, and U.S. constitutional law related thereto.”

A similar view comes from Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild. She told IPS, “President Obama’s about-face on releasing the photos belies his commitment to transparency. Those who authorized the mistreatment depicted in the photos have not been punished. By refusing to make the photos public, the administration is withholding evidence that could be used to bring the real culprits to justice.”

Criticism of the Obama decision has also become viral among liberals in the blogosphere, For example, Cenk Uygur, writing in the left-leaning Huffington Post, said, “This is an unbelievable moment. Dick Cheney’s PR offensive over the last month actually worked. Barack Obama just crumbled and will follow Cheney’s command to not release the new set of detainee abuse pictures.”

(Inter Press Service)

Deconstructing Obama’s Excuses

May 15, 2009

by Dan Froomkin | The Washington Post, May 14, 2009

In trying to explain his startling decision to oppose the public release of more photos depicting detainee abuse, President Obama and his aides yesterday put forth six excuses for his about-face, one more flawed than the next.

First, there was the nothing-to-see-here excuse. In his remarks yesterday afternoon, Obama said the “photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

But as the Washington Post reports: “[O]ne congressional staff member, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the photos, said the pictures are more graphic than those that have been made public from Abu Ghraib. ‘When they are released, there will be a major outcry for an investigation by a commission or some other vehicle,’ the staff member said.”

The New York Times reports: “Many of the photos may recall those taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which showed prisoners naked or in degrading positions, sometimes with Americans posing smugly nearby, and caused an uproar in the Arab world and elsewhere when they came to light in 2004.”

And if they really aren’t that sensational, then what’s the big deal?

Then there was the the-bad-apples-have-been-dealt-with excuse. This one, to me, is the most troubling.

Obama said the incidents pictured in the photographs “were investigated — and, I might add, investigated long before I took office — and, where appropriate, sanctions have been applied….[T]his is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action. Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes. And the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.”

But this suggests that Obama has bought into the false Bush-administration narrative that the abuses of detainees were isolated acts, rather than part of an endemic system of abuse implicitly sanctioned at the highest levels of government. The Bushian view has been widely discredited — and for Obama to endorse it suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the past.

The notion that responsibility for the sorts of actions depicted in those photos lies at the highest — not lowest — levels of government is not exactly a radical view. No less an authority than the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a bipartisan report: “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own….The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

But as The Washington Post notes: “[N]o commanding officers or Defense Department officials were jailed or fired in connection with the abuse, which the Bush administration dismissed as the misbehavior of low-ranking soldiers.” And the “appropriate actions,” as Obama put it, have certainly not yet been taken. The architects of the system in which the abuse took place have yet to be held to account.

Then there was the no-good-would-come-of-this excuse.

Obama said it was his “belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.”

But the photos would add a lot. It was, after all, the photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that forced the nation to acknowledge what had happened there. There is something visceral and undeniable about photographic evidence which makes it almost uniquely capable of cutting through the disinformation and denial that surrounds the issue of detainee abuse.

These photos are said to show that the kind of treatment chronicled in Abu Ghraib was in fact not limited to that one prison or one country. They would, as I wrote yesterday, serve as a powerful refutation to former vice president Cheney’s so far mostly successful attempt to cast the public debate about government-sanctioned torture as a narrow one limited to the CIA’s secret prisons.

Then there was the “protect-the-troops” excuse.

Said Obama: “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

But the concern about the consequences of the release, while laudable on one level, is no excuse for a cover-up.

Glenn Greewald blogs for Salon: “Think about what Obama’s rationale would justify. Obama’s claim…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…, 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?…

“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?”

Then there was the chilling-effect excuse.

Said Obama: “Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”

But how so? Under questioning, press secretary Robert Gibbs failed miserably to explain that particular rationale at yesterday’s press briefing.

“[I]f in each of these instances somebody looking into detainee abuse takes evidentiary photos in a case that’s eventually concluded, this could provide a tremendous disincentive to take those photos and investigate that abuse,” Gibbs said.

Q. “Wait, try that once again. I don’t follow you. Where’s the disincentive?”

Gibbs: “The disincentive is in the notion that every time one of these photos is taken, that it’s going to be released. 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.

“These are all investigations that were undertaken by the Pentagon and have been concluded. 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.”

Get that? Yeah, me neither.

And finally, there was the new-argument excuse.

Gibbs said “the President isn’t going back to remake the argument that has been made. The President is going — has asked his legal team to go back and make a new argument based on national security.”

But as the Los Angeles Times reports, the argument that releasing the photographs could create a backlash “was raised and rejected by a federal district court judge and the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which called the warnings of a backlash ‘clearly speculative’ and insufficient to warrant blocking disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

“‘There’s no legal basis for withholding the photographs,’ said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, ‘so this must be a political decision.’”

Margaret Talev and Jonathan S. Landay write for McClatchy Newspapers: “The request for what’s effectively a legal do-over is an unlikely step for a president who is trained as a constitutional lawyer, advocated greater government transparency and ran for election as a critic of his predecessor’s secretive approach toward the handling of terrorism detainees.

“Eric Glitzenstein, a lawyer with expertise in Freedom of Information Act requests, said he thought that Obama faced an uphill legal battle. ‘They should not be able to go back time and again and concoct new rationales’ for withholding what have been deemed public records, he said.

“The timing of the president’s decision suggests that a key factor behind his switch of position could have been a desire to prevent the release of the photos before a speech that he’s to give June 4 in Egypt aimed at convincing the world’s Muslims that the United States isn’t at war with them. The pictures’ release shortly before the speech could have negated its goal and proved highly embarrassing. Even if courts ultimately reject Obama’s new position, the time needed for their consideration could delay the photos’ release until long after the speech.”

Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times: “President Obama’s decision Wednesday to try to block the court-ordered release of photographs depicting alleged abuse of detainees by U.S. soldiers sets him on a confrontational course with his liberal base. But it is a showdown he is willing to risk — and may even view as politically necessary…

“Obama now can tell critics on the right that he did his best to protect the nation’s troops, even if the courts eventually force the disclosure.

“Obama has been facing intense criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney and other conservatives, who have argued that the new administration’s efforts to roll back Bush-era interrogation policies have made the country less safe.

“The praise for Obama that came Wednesday from Republicans such as House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina can only help undercut those arguments.”

But, Wallsten and Hook write: “Obama’s dilemma is that he risks undermining one of the core principles he claimed for his presidency: transparency.”

The Washington political-media establishment seems to approve of Obama’s decision.

Rick Klein writes in ABC News’s The Note: “In the broader context, it’s cast as a sign of political maturation, maybe even classic Obama pragmatism. This is what it’s like to be commander-in-chief — one of those tough choices where there’s no easy answer, and no shame in reversing yourself.”

Ben Smith and Josh Gerstein write in Politico that Obama’s reversal “marks the next phase in the education of the new president on the complicated, combustible issue of torture.”

Washington Post opinion columnist David Ignatius blogs: “Is this a ‘Sister Soulja’ moment on national security, like Bill Clinton’s famous criticism of a controversial rap singer during the 1992 presidential campaign — which upset some liberal supporters but polished his credentials as a centrist?”

But anti-torture bloggers reject the comparison.

Andrew Sullivan blogs: “The MSM cannot see the question of torture and violation of the Geneva Conventions as a matter of right and wrong, of law and lawlessness. They see it as a matter of right and left. And so an attempt to hold Bush administration officials accountable for the war crimes they proudly admit to committing is ‘left-wing.’ And those of us who actually want to uphold the rule of law … are now the equivalent of rappers urging the murder of white people.”

In a separate post, Sullivan writes: “Slowly but surely, Obama is owning the cover-up of his predcessors’ war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to proscute 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.”

© 2009 The Washington Post

Dan Froomkin writes White House Watch (originally called White House Briefing) for the Washington Post. He is also deputy editor of NiemanWatchdog.org, a Web site devoted to encouraging watchdog and accountability journalism from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

President Obama to restart Guantanamo Bay military tribunals

May 15, 2009

May 15, 2009

U.S. Lawmakers Try to Block New Abuse Photos

May 11, 2009

By William Fisher | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, May 11 (IPS) – Civil libertarians are condemning a call by two influential U.S. senators for the White House to block the impending release of photographs showing detainees being abused by U.S. military personnel at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at other U.S. detention facilities in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The plea to intervene to stop the expected May 28 release of the photos came in a letter to President Barack Obama from Senators Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham.

“The release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been clearly prohibited will 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 Senators wrote.

Release of the photos is expected in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to fight the release of these old pictures of detainees in the war on terror, including appealing the decision of the Second Circuit in the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] lawsuit to the Supreme Court and pursuing all legal options to prevent the public disclosure of these pictures,” the senators wrote.

Their letter said, “We know that many terrorists captured in Iraq have told American interrogators that one of the reasons they decided to join the violent jihadist war against America was what they saw on al Qaeda videos of abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib.”

As a result of the ensuing actions by Congress, “America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have made great progress in improving detention and interrogation procedures,” they wrote.

Senator Graham is a conservative Republican from South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee, and a military lawyer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Lieberman was a lifelong Democrat until he lost his party’s primary contest in 2006, after which he ran and won as an Independent from Connecticut. He is chairman of the powerful Senate Homeland Security Committee. The two senators were among the most ardent supporters of the recent unsuccessful presidential campaign of Senator John McCain.

Civil libertarians were virtually unanimous in their opposition to withholding the photographs.

Gabor Rona, international legal director of Human Rights First, told IPS, “Sen. Lieberman and Graham’s claims might carry more weight had the U.S. government been consistently honest about the mistreatment it authorised.”

“But as long as the American people are kept in the dark about what crimes were committed in their name, they cannot intelligently exercise their democratic right and obligation to call for corrective measures,” he said.

Rona added, “To elevate fear of al Qaeda’s reactions over faith in our democratic ideals and structures is unfortunate and counterproductive.”

Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, told IPS, “The more evidence that emerges to document the Bush policy of torture and abuse, the more likely that investigations and prosecutions will take place.”

Professor Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois Law School told IPS, “The release of these photos will further document torture, abuse and other war crimes inflicted by U.S. military personnel in Iraq, the orders for which go all the way up the military chain of command to the Commander in Chief President Bush, the Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, none of whom has yet been held accountable.”

He said, “Senators Lieberman and Graham are simply running interference for all three of them. Yet under the terms of the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Convention against Torture, the Obama administration has an obligation to open an investigation and to prosecute them. Failure to do so is a war crime in its own right.”

“These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib,” said attorney Amrit Singh of the ACLU, the organisation that originally brought the lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

“Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorising or permitting such abuse,” she said.

Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, now retired, served as the V Corps commander of coalition forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004. When he retired in November 2006, he called his career a casualty of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

The disagreement over release of the photos reflects conflicting assessments of which is more dangerous and objectionable – the release of the photographs or the abusive behaviour that they depict.

It also turns on unresolved questions concerning the scale of prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel, and the nature of the public accounting that can or should be required.

The original Abu Ghraib photos were first exposed to the public in a 2006 segment of the television program, “Sixty Minutes,” and shortly thereafter in an extensive article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker magazine.

The images showed Iraqi prisoners hooded, with electrodes attached to their bodies, being menaced by dogs, forced to walk with dog collars around their necks, and made to form pyramids of naked bodies. Existence of the images was first reported by a low-level U.S. Army soldier.

The military conducted more than a dozen investigations of the abusive practices, which then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attributed to the aberrations of “a few bad apples.” A number of low-level soldiers were convicted and sentenced to terms in military prisons, a few others were given official reprimands, and the brigadier general who was in charge of the prison was demoted to colonel.

The Defence Department investigations concluded that no one higher up in the military or civilian leadership of the Pentagon bore any responsibility for the abuses.

While the contents of the new photos have not been made public, it is known that members of Congress viewed them in a classified setting when the original Abu Ghraib images were released. Some have said publicly that the new photos paint an even grimmer picture of prisoner abuse, not only at Abu Ghraib but also at other U.S.-controlled prisons in the Middle East.

It is unclear whether the new crop of photos includes those taken by psychologist Philip Zimbardo. As an expert witness in the defense of an Abu Ghraib guard who was court-martialed, he had access to many of the images of abuse that were taken by the guards themselves.

Zimbardo assembled some of these pictures into a short video. Many of the images are explicit and gruesome, depicting nudity, degradation, simulated sex acts, and guards posing with decaying corpses.

The original Abu Ghraib photos were broadcast around the world long before it became known that U.S. authorities, including the Central Intelligence Agency, were using waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” at the Navy detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in Afghanistan, and at secret prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 954 other followers