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Jewish World Review
May 15, 2009
/ 21 Iyar 5769
Obama Gets It Right for Once
If there was one incident that led to the decline in support for
the Iraq War at home and abroad, it was the 2004 publication of pictures of
U.S. soldiers taunting and abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Those photos,
broadcast endlessly into homes around the globe, depicted grinning American
soldiers, male and female, next to naked Iraqi prisoners stacked in piles on
the floor. Others showed snarling dogs intimidating prisoners. And perhaps
the most infamous revealed a female soldier, cigarette dangling from her
curled lips, leading a naked prisoner by a dog collar around his neck.
The soldiers who engaged in this rogue, illegal conduct were
tried, convicted, and went to prison. But the damage they did can never be
fully expiated. Now, a freedom of information filing by the American Civil
Liberties Union threatens to open this old wound. The ACLU filed suit in
2003 to obtain the release of all photos related to military detention, and
the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found in its favor last September. The
Bush administration sought to reverse the ruling, but the Obama
administration said in April it would not fight the release of the photos.
Then, President Obama reversed course this week, instructing the Justice
Department to challenge the release in court on the grounds of national
President Obama now says 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." He added that the
most direct consequence of releasing them "would be to further inflame
anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger." He did not come to
this conclusion without help namely from Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of
U.S. forces in Iraq, and Gen. David McKiernan, outgoing American commander
in Afghanistan, who pushed Defense Secretary Robert Gates to urge the
administration to fight the release of the photos.
Better late than never. Obama's reversal comes after weeks of
controversy over his Justice Department's decision to release Bush
administration memos giving legal justifications for the use of enhanced
interrogation techniques on enemy combatants. While the two actions strike
some left-wing critics as contradictory, in fact they demonstrate the fine
line Obama is trying to walk on Bush-era decisions.
On the one hand, Obama seems eager to punish Bush political
appointees for aggressively prosecuting the war on terror. On the other
hand, he's nervous about doing anything that might provoke more violence
against American troops, especially if it might redound to the detriment of
his own reputation and that of his administration. If Obama acquiesces in
the release of the photos and terrorist acts against American soldiers or
civilians abroad follow, he knows he'll be blamed.
But the Obama decision also reflects the larger shift on the
left from blaming soldiers for their involvement in a sometimes unpopular
war to trying to show some respect for military personnel while still
attacking the political leaders who sent them to war. Although Obama is not
old enough to remember the Vietnam War personally, he's nonetheless learned
some of the lessons from that era.
Anti-Vietnam War protestors spat on American soldiers, literally
and figuratively. Many burned the American flag, urged the victory of the
communist guerillas, and ignored the torture of American prisoners of war in
North Vietnam. Some, like Obama friend and political ally William Ayers,
went further, engaging in grotesque acts of violence against military
installations in the U.S. and later against the police. The American people
overwhelmingly rejected the excesses of these protestors, electing Richard
M. Nixon twice.
With some exceptions notably Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who
blamed American troops of committing atrocities in Haditha before
investigations and courts martial cleared them, and Sen. John Kerry,
D-Mass., who accused American troops of terrorizing Iraqi children most
Democrats have tried to sound supportive of American soldiers. I'd like to
think this support is sincere, that they appreciate the sacrifice of the men
and women who serve this country so the rest of us can be safe. But even if
President Obama's decision not to release the photos was simply a cold,
political calculation, we should be glad he made it.
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JWR contributor Linda Chavez is President of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Her latest book is "Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
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