Here's how he has defended the decision not to release the photos of prisoner abuse:
"I want to emphasize that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the images we remember from Abu Ghraib," the president said on the South Lawn of the White House. "But they do represent conduct that didn't conform with the Army manual."
Obama said the publication of the photos would not add any additional benefit to investigations being carried out into detainee abuse — and could put future inquires at risk.
"In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would further flame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. … I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse."
Let's unpack this. It's understandable that releasing new evidence of the widespread torture and abuse policy of Bush and Cheney, including techniques that were tailored specifically against Muslims, could inflame the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the two newest military theaters for the US. On the brink of what may be a brutal summer in all theaters in a war whose purpose is now opaque, one can understand the caution, and there is no reason to doubt the genuine worries of commanders in the field. But it is important to remember that it is the abuse that inflames, not the accounting of the abuse. And for Obama to act as an extension of the Bush era of secrecy is potentially more damaging to the US and its interests and servicemembers. He risks looking like Bush's continuation, not a clear caesura. That does not help the war, although the loathing of America in Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan is so intense it is hard to see how anything could make it worse.
As to the "chilling effect" on future investigations, I confess to being stumped. Why would release of suppressed evidence further proving that Abu Ghraib was Bush-Cheney policy "chill" future investigation? Since when does evidence of crimes make future prosecution of them harder? It seems to me a fair point that these images add more heat than light. But that is an argument for a thorough and independent Truth Commission to sift all this evidence with responsibility and in context. If that were the decision, if Obama was telling us that he will release this evidence later, in a calmer, clearer context, then I think he can make a case. Right now, it seems pretty clear that the military knows that Afghanistan is going under, Pakistan is on the brink, Iraq looks fine but probably will fall apart if we withdraw, and they sure as hell don't need more grief or demoralization right now.
I understand that. But it's a reason to postpone, not conceal, to investigate more thoroughly, not to suppress. That's what matters. This is not in the past. We have one major political party and an important faction in American politics and a former vice-president openly defending and championing torture as a critical weapon, refusing to hold anyone accountable even morally, let alone legally, and threatening to impose a torture regime if they ever get their hands on power again.
You cannot show weakness in the face of this shamelessness. Maybe it's a long game and accountability is a dish best served cold and late. But what if there's always a reason in an endless war of occupation of multiple countries not to serve it at all?