WASHINGTON - In a reversal, President Barack Obama objected on Wednesday to the release of dozens of photographs showing the abuse of terrorism suspects, fearing the pictures could trigger a backlash against U.S. troops.
The Obama administration had said last month it would comply with a court order to release the pictures by May 28, amid concerns that they could fan the flames of a political firestorm over the treatment of terrorism suspects and other detainees during George W. Bush's presidency.
A U.S. official said Obama told his legal team last week that he did not feel comfortable with the release of the photos although in no way did he excuse the behavior of those responsible for tough interrogation tactics.
He directed the lawyers to object to the immediate release of the photos on grounds that their release would endanger our troops, and because he believes that the national security implications of such a release have not been fully presented to the court.
The president strongly believes that the release of these photos, particularly at this time, would only serve the purpose of inflaming the theaters of war, jeopardizing U.S. forces, and making our job more difficult in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the official, who declined to be identified, said.
Obama inflamed partisan tensions in Washington in April by releasing memos written by Bush-era Justice Department lawyers that provided the legal justification for interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, which is simulated drowning.
Human rights advocates have called for prosecuting those Bush officials.
Obama last month also opened the door to the prosecution of those officials, and Attorney General Eric Holder last week vowed to move cautiously and avoid partisan politics in deciding whether any Bush-era officials should be prosecuted.
On Capitol Hill, some Democrats, such as House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have been calling for appointment of a truth commission to conduct a highly public probe into Bush administration interrogation tactics.
The Obama White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, have been wary of such a move, fearing it would distract attention from Obama's agenda.
Republicans have insisted that the interrogation tactics provided valuable information and have pointed fingers at Pelosi, saying she was briefed on tactics such as waterboarding in 2002 and did not complain about them at the time.
Pelosi has insisted that she was only told waterboarding was an option, not that it was being used.