Obama Blinks on Prison Photos -- Courage or Subterfuge?

By S.E. CuppConservative Commentator/Author, "Why You're Wrong About the Right"

In yet another bizarre reversal, the Obama administration has just announced it no longer wants to release 44 photographs that supposedly depict the abuse of prison detainees in US custody in the Middle East. Even though the Justice Department agreed to release the photos by May 28th, an unnamed official now says Obama does "not feel comfortable with the release of the DOD photos because he believes their release would endanger our troops."

Though the thought of angering the liberal activists at the ACLU - which have been pressuring this administration and the last to release the photos by way of a lawsuit (what else?) - is enough to make me practically giddy, I'm not jumping for joy just yet. Something smells fishy here, and only time will tell if this move represents a genuine moment of courage for Obama or yet another shady show of opacity.

Before I'm accused of partisan whining, let me say this first: If President Obama has now realized just how inane and dangerous it would be to release photographs of our terrorist detainees, I offer him an unabashed "bravo." That action would threaten our national security, jeopardize the safety of our troops, weaken our national image, and reveal the president to be nothing more than a well-paid employee of the ACLU and MoveOn.org. So in the un-cynical version of this story, he understands the gravity of the situation, and proves he has the kind of conviction and character many on the right are concerned he lacks.

But my instinct tells me something else is probably going on.

If we think back to the campaign, Obama insisted he wanted to look forward, not backward on the actions of the Bush administration, and that prosecutions would not be a focus of his White House. Then of course he seemed to change his mind and allowed for the idea of bipartisan investigations. The Justice Department then released four secret memos, and promised to release the photos as well. And now, Obama is objecting.

The way I see it, there are three likely circumstances that could explain this 147th flip-flop on the interrogation issue and whether or not prosecuting the Bush administration is something Obama wants to do. (It would seem an easy enough question - either he's for it or he's against it. But then again, as has become typical, no one seems to know what Barack Obama's for and against.)

One, it's possible that his reversal is purely symbolic. If it turns out that the previous commitment to release the images is irreversible, regardless of Obama's new objection to it, it will be clear that the president's statement is merely face-saving rhetoric, designed to brace against pointed criticism from the right when the Justice Department follows through with their plans. The photos will be released, everyone in the country besides the ACLU and MoveOn.org will be outraged, and the president will insist, "I told them not to do it." Right...just after you told them they should.

Two, the Obama administration has seen the rest of the memos - you know, the ones that prove that Democrats like Nancy Pelosi knew far more than their feigned shock-horror suggests. And the ones that prove that our interrogation techniques saved millions of lives. In this case, releasing the photos will prompt Republicans to push for the release of the rest of the memos, which wouldn't make the president or Congress look very good. And which just might convince average Americans that a little water goes a long way to assuring their safety.

And three, prosecuting the Bush administration opens the door for future prosecutions -- against the Obama administration. I've suggested, without so much as a smile on my face, that the next administration should prosecute Obama for negligence if we're attacked again, if his administration pursues Bush. While that's probably just my own fantastical version of comeuppance, it's possible the president realizes that embarking on this path of retribution leaves him wide open for the same kind of irrational scrutiny. By coming out now against the release of the photos, it could be his way of protecting his own legacy.

Either way, we should all hope the Obama administration's latest objections to the release of those photos close the door on these nefarious, embittered and reckless investigations that look more like political playground stunts than pursuits of justice. But we'll have to wait until this thing shakes out before we know whether we should congratulate the president for his courage or shake our heads at more subterfuge.