Some lawmakers are questioning the wisdom of releasing hundreds of photos potentially showing U.S. military personnel abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
"If we release the pictures, the odds are that Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups will then use our pictures to recruit people to come into the war against us," Sen. Joe Lieberman. I-Conn., told FOX News.
The Pentagon plans to release the photos by May 28 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The move comes after the Justice Department lost its latest round in federal court and concluded that any further appeal probably would be fruitless.
But critics of the move say it will become a sequel to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, which caused an international backlash against the U.S., with photos in 2004 of grinning U.S. soldiers posing with detainees, some naked, being held on leashes or in painful positions.
Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., urged President Obama in a letter to "fight" the release of the photos.
"We are working currently to figure out what the process is moving forward," he said.
Asked if that means the decision could be reversed, Gibbs said, "I don't want to get into that right now."
Whether the new photos are as repugnant as those from Abu Ghraib is still an open question. But one U.S. official told FOX News that hundreds of photos are involved, drawn from military investigations into alleged abuse between 2001 and 2005.
A recent military study found a troubling connection. The study, based on the interrogation of 48 detainees, concluded that a motivating factor for bombers was the humiliation of Muslims, depicted in the photos shown repeatedly in the Arab media and on the Internet.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told FOX News' Neil Cavuto that the Obama administration appears to be "committed to putting out information that sort of favors their point of view in terms of being opposed to, for example, enhanced interrogation techniques."
The head of the American Legion warned in the Wall Street Journal that "a picture may be worth a thousand words, but is it worth the death of a single American soldier?...The Defense Department owes it to the soldiers to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to block the release of these photos."
The ACLU claims the release will help the American people decide whether the abuse was widespread or, as the Bush administration claimed, bad acts by rogue actors.
"The people in the pictures are guilty, but it does not stop and it is dangerous for us to assume that this is just a few bad apples," said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the group. "This was at the highest levels of the U.S. government, a policy of state-approved torture that the U.S. committed and carried out throughout the Bush administration."
Lieberman told FOX News the release of the photos is not about transparency because the photos are old and Congress has moved aggressively to prevent abuse in the future through the Detainee Treatment Act.
"This is voyeurism," he said. "There's no value to these pictures and again, tremendous potential harm to American and a lot of Americans, particularly those who are good enough to serve us in uniform."