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Daily Column
US Papers Thu: Obama Switches on Abuse Photos
Stress of Repeated Deployments, Is Al-Qaeda in Iraq Coming Back?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/14/2009 1:18 PM ET
On of the top stories of the day, President Obama abruptly reverses his stance and moves to bar release of photos depicting abuse of detainees under US care. There is more discussion of soldiers’ mental health in the wake of the killings at Camp Liberty, the story of a cleric-turned-insurgent-turned-US ally-turned arrestee, and a spike in suicide attacks brings up the question - is Al-Qaeda in Iraq coming back?

Detainee Photos
Approximately 2,000 photos documenting abuse of prisoners by US military personnel were deemed releasable by the Obama administration. On Wednesday, Obama announced a reversal of that decision, and said he would work to block the photos’ release. The reason? After warnings from top Pentagon officials and Generals Odierno and McKiernan, Defense Secretary Gates and Obama concluded that, if made public, the photos would “further inflame anti-American opinion” and endanger troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The American Civil Liberties Union, who request the release under the Freedom of Information Act, decry the decision, arguing that they demonstrate an institutional problem for which, to date, no high-ranking officials have been prosecuted. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, "Even given that the photos will undoubtedly generate outrage in the region, the best way to dampen that outrage is to hold those responsible accountable.”

Both articles have the same basic story, but Jeff Zeleny and Thom Shanker of the New York Times come out on top by delving into descriptions (by unnamed officials) of the photos themselves a bit.
Officials who have seen the photos describe them as falling into two categories: Abu Ghraib-style personal snapshots taken by soldiers; and photos taken by military criminal investigators documenting allegations of abuse, including autopsy photos of prisoners who died in custody.
The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson isn’t far behind.

The Wall Street Journal Opinion Page couldn’t be more pleased with Obama’s “pleasant reversal,” and is just a little bombastic.
The President is learning, albeit slowly, that secrecy has its uses in wartime, and that the real goal of his allies on the left is to make it harder for the U.S. to defend itself.
From Iraq
Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor reports on whether or not the recent suicide bombings portend a return in prominence of al-Qaeda in Iraq. US intelligence officials she speaks to basically say that the overall trends are still hopeful, but the escalation to tit-for-tat sectarian killings are always a danger. The article spends more time on simultaneous announcements by the US military that its troops may remain in some Iraqi cities past the June 30 deadline, and the constant announcements by Prime Minister al-Maliki and other Iraqi politicians that it will never happen. Al-Maliki is said to be telling a pre-election constituency what they want to hear.
"In many parts of the country, there is crystal-clear agreement among US and Iraqi military leaders," says a senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "The higher up you go, the more other factors are entered into the equation." At that level, he says, "campaigning has already begun for the national elections."
The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid tackles the thorny issue of one-time insurgents’ lurking pasts. With the Sahwa program, past activities of many were put by the wayside, in the interest of gaining their cooperation. In the name of stability, influential leaders were propped up and often protected by US forces from, most notable, government security forces. Now, some criminal charges are coming out of the woodwork, and real people who had real wrings done to them are demanding justice, just as the US roll as buffer is taking a back seat to cooperation with the Iraqi government.

Shadid files from Thuluyah, where until his recent arrest, Nadhim Khalil was one of these protected ex-insurgents, and speaks to a man who claims he was kidnapped for ransom in 2006 at Khalil’s behest. As usual, Shadid’s writing isn’t necessarily for casual readers, but is compelling and nuanced and the day's most interesting offering.

Military Matters
There are two articles about GI mental health, now being looked at closely after the killing of five service members by one of their own at a clinic designed to treat just that. Both articles deal with the family of Sgt. John Russell who is being held in the killings. Andrea Stone of USA Today also deals with the families of some of those killed in the attack, while The Christian Science Monitor’s Gordon Lubold focuses on the stress caused by repeated deployments.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at


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