In a speech on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday, May 13, President Barack Obama announced his newfound conviction that the publication of photographs of prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan by members of the United States military would constitute a threat to national security. An article concerning the conviction appears on the New York Times website under the headline “Obama Moves to Bar Release of Detainee Abuse Photos“, although a more creative headline might have read “Obama Looks to NKVD for Lessons in National Security.”
According to the article, Obama “suggested that the new mission in Iraq and Afghanistan could be imperiled by an old fight.” Not deemed imperiling, on the other hand, was the possibility that citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan might not be able to distinguish between old and new American missions in their respective countries, especially when all missions appeared to involve large numbers of civilian casualties. US defense secretary Robert Gates had defended recent loss of civilian life in Afghanistan on the basis that this is what the insurgents wanted, while other Pentagon officials identified insurgent support for the publication of the prisoner abuse photos; the government of Pakistan meanwhile dealt with national security threats of its own, in which 800,000 displaced Pakistanis were not defined as threatening to America’s regional image.
Obama is quoted by the Times as declaring on the South Lawn that the dissemination of the abuse photos “would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.” Liberal interpretations of the terms “past” and “small” might be practically applied to other difficult situations, as well, such as global financial crises.
The Times article ends with Obama’s pronouncement that he “fear[s] the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.” The most chilling effect of this pronouncement, in turn, seems to be an inverted logic equating publication of the photos with impediments to justice.