While Obama promised us a new era of openness, his administration has already made its first appeal to national security in order to justify secrecy. This is, of course, about the photos showing American troops subjecting prisoners to abuse.
Initially, Obama said that he would not oppose the release of the photographs. However, he reversed his position and has decided to block the court-ordered release of these images.
The main reason given for this reversal is that the release of the images would be a threat to national security. The argument for this is that these images would cause outrage and anger around the world, thus increasing the likelihood that American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan would be attacked. Presumably, there is also concern that the anger generated by such photos would also put civilians at risk.
On one hand, this is a reasonable concern. Images of grossly immoral behavior would certainly shock and anger people. Also, those who are inclined towards revenge (or who are looking for an excuse for violence) might be motivated to attack Americans because of these images. Obviously, something that could cause American deaths should be avoided.
On the other hand, there are reasons to release the photos. First, it seems unlikely that people will be even more motivated to attack Americans simply because of some photos. Unless these photos show actions that go beyond those in already released photos, I doubt that the images would provide any more than a slight propaganda advantage as the images cause people to remember the crimes we committed. People who are already motivated to kill us will, obviously enough, keep on trying. Those who are not will most likely not be pushed over the edge.
Second, the court has already ordered the release of the photos. While Obama has the right to oppose their release, he should respect the rule of law.
Third, chosing to keep the photos secret could damage the reputation of the Obama administration and thus, ironically, lead to greater trouble in the world. Obama promised America and the world that he would respect the rule of law, that he would run a transparent administration, and that there would be accountability. If he goes back on this and starts playing what many will see as the game, then he will hurt America’s newly improved image in the world. This could create far more harm than releasing the photos.
As such, the photos should be released. They should be released to prove to the world the following:
First, America is ruled by law and we follow our own laws. Second, our President keeps his word. Third, we accept responsibility for our misdeeds. Fourth, we correct our misdeeds rather than concealing them. Fifth, that we respect the rest of the world enough to believe that they will also respect us when we do what is right. Sixth, that we are not ruled by fear, but by what is right.
Naturally, the truth of these claims might be doubted by some. Or by many.