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Commentary: Obama's call on photos saved lives

  • Story Highlights
  • Brian Wise: President's decision to oppose release of photos was well-founded
  • He says initial release of Abu Ghraib photos sparked attacks on U.S. troops
  • Wise says releasing photos would have endangered U.S. troops
  • Abuse claims are being investigated by the Pentagon, he says
By Brian Wise
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Brian Wise is executive director of Military Families United, a national advocacy organization for military families based in Washington. A former television producer, he served as director of media relations for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Brian Wise says President Obama's decision to fight release of prisoner photos saved the lives of U.S. troops.

Brian Wise says President Obama's decision to fight release of prisoner photos saved the lives of U.S. troops.

(CNN) -- The president's decision last week to fight the release of dozens of photographs depicting the alleged abuse of prisoners in detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq was more than just a political decision. It was a decision that saved lives.

By fighting the release, President Obama put the safety of our troops before the demands of an activist agenda, and Americans should thank him for it.

There is no doubt that the needless release of those photos would have cost American lives. When photos surfaced of the shocking abuse at Abu Ghraib in April 2004, violence dramatically spiked in Iraq. In the 10 days following the release of the photos, nearly 40 American soldiers were killed.

American casualties doubled the next month and kept climbing throughout the following year as foreign fighters and terrorists flooded Iraq. The pictures were used on a daily basis to stoke the fire of hatred of America across the Middle East.

They were used as propaganda by terrorists and even members of the media to drive a message that the U.S. government was at best incompetent and at worst not much better than the extremists we were fighting.

The Abu Ghraib photos also hindered our mission in Iraq. Many Iraqis who were aiding American troops no longer viewed our troops as allies but as dangerous criminals. A bond of trust was broken that set the mission back years.

The Iraqi people did not view the Abu Ghraib photos as isolated incidents but methods that reminded them of the horror of the former regime. Of course, none of what was done at Abu Ghraib or in Afghanistan approached the vile mutilations of Saddam Hussein's Red Rooms and torture chambers or the Taliban's dismemberments and public stoning.

The terrible acts at Abu Ghraib were isolated incidents conducted by a small number of individuals who were quickly identified and prosecuted for their crimes.

If a new set of photos were to be released, we would be punishing the thousands of brave and innocent troops for the crimes of a few.

As American troops increase their presence in Afghanistan our service members must be able to cultivate relationships with the citizens of that country without those horrific images creating an environment of distrust and anger. As we begin leaving Iraq in the hands of Iraqi forces, we must ensure that the progress that the surge has made is not undone because of a political stunt intended to embarrass the previous administration.

What Americans need to appreciate is that there is a very real, active process within the Department of Defense that on an ongoing basis investigates and punishes members of the military who break the law.

What is important here is that the Pentagon has the photos and is using them as evidence in cases involving soldiers accused of abuse. Publicly releasing the photos will in no way aid the prosecution of these cases. It would be done only to satisfy some unfounded contention by conspiracy theorists that the government is just ignoring the problem.

Abuse cannot and should not be swept under the rug. It wasn't in Abu Ghraib and will not be now. Releasing these photographs would serve no purpose other than emboldening al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations by providing new tools for their recruitment of future jihadists. The president has committed to our troops that he will not let this disclosure hinder our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and risk their lives.

A photo can depict reality, or it can deceptively shape perceptions. America is safer today because these photos are not public and because the president chose to stand up for our troops instead of catering to the whims of the ACLU. America's military families thank Obama for standing up for the interests and safety of our brave men and women in uniform.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brian Wise.

All About Barack ObamaIraq WarAbu Ghraib

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