After a bipartisan round of condemnation over his decision not to appeal a ruling on detainee photos to the Supreme Court, President Barack Obama reversed himself in a move called a “complete 180” by Jake Tapper at ABC. Obama instructed his White House counsel Greg Craig to file an appeal to keep photos depicting abuse of detainees by American troops from the public. The ACLU will not be pleased:
President Obama met with White House counsel Greg Craig and other members of the White House counsel team last week and told them that he had second thoughts about the decision to hand over photographs of detainee abuse to the ACLU, per a judge’s order, and had changed his mind.
The president “believes their release would endanger our troops,” a White House official says, adding that the president “believes that the national security implications of such a release have not been fully presented to the court.”
At the end of that meeting, the president directed Craig to object to the immediate release of the photos on those grounds. In an Oval Office meeting with Iraq Commander General Ray Odierno, the president told him of his decision to argue against the release of the photographs.
The move is a complete 180. In a letter from the Justice Department to a federal judge on April 23, the Obama administration announced that the Pentagon would turn over 44 photographs showing detainee abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq during the Bush administration.
Rumors of the switch began leaking yesterday out of the West Wing, accompanied by a strange non-answer by Robert Gibbs. The expiration date on Obama’s original position came less than three weeks after publicly taking it. At the time, Obama insisted that the need to be honest exceeded our national-security concerns, and the safety of our troops as well.
What changed? The decision angered the military, which recalled the hysterics over the Abu Ghraib photos. Even Obama’s allies on the decision admitted that the release would damage security and put American troops in more danger, including John Kerry, who said they made great propaganda for our terrorist enemies. With the CIA already battling the White House after the release of the OLC memos, the last thing Obama needed was a war with the Pentagon.
In the end, it may not make much difference. The Supreme Court could uphold the lower court decision to force their release, and Craig may not bother to work tirelessly to win this appeal anyway. The initial withdrawal of the White House on this appeal will certainly come under scrutiny by the justices. However, that will then be their problem and not Obama’s, a calculation that one wonders how Obama missed in the first place.