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Obama Moves to Block Release of Detainee Abuse Photos

President Obama has decided to bar the release of photos showing U.S. personnel mistreating detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan amid concerns the backlash could jeopardize troops abroad. New York Times White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny explains the move.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    President Obama today announced his opposition to releasing more photos of U.S. troops mistreating Iraqi and Afghan prisoners. He said government lawyers will argue it poses a threat to national security.

    The photographs were taken before 2004. A federal appeals court ordered them made public, and the administration initially said it would comply. But today at the White House, Mr. Obama explained his change of heart. He said the pictures are not that sensational and their release will do no good.

  • U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.

    In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    The American Civil Liberties Union brought the lawsuit that seeks publication of the photos. The group condemned today's announcement. An ACLU attorney said, "The decision to not release the photographs makes a mockery of President Obama's promise of transparency and accountability."

    For more on our lead story, Jeff Zeleny, White House correspondent for the New York Times, is with us.

    Jeff, welcome.

  • JEFF ZELENY, New York Times:

    Thank you.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    First, how many photographs are there?

  • JEFF ZELENY:

    We're talking about hundreds of photographs here. And interestingly, in the last two weeks, we're told that President Obama has looked at many of these photographs, not all of them, but a wide sampling of them, and that's how he reached his decision. He gave us a little bit of a window into that this evening.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Well, first of all — let me continue — what's the word on what are actually on these photographs?

  • JEFF ZELENY:

    Well, he says they're not particularly sensational. Some Pentagon officials and some other folks who have seen them say, you know, they are pretty graphic and they would inflame and perhaps hurt the American troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    So, specifically, I have not seen the photographs. I don't know what's on them. But we're told that they are pretty sensational. And I'm guessing that that's probably true or they wouldn't be so worried about releasing them.

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