Update On Cover Up?

by digby

Updating my post of yesterday about the Abu Ghraib pics, Scott Horton is reporting that the pictures are the awful pics described in the Telegraph and which General Taguba confirmed were those which he'd described in his report.

The Daily Beast has confirmed that the photographs of abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, which President Obama, in a reversal, decided not to release, depict sexually explicit acts, including a uniformed soldier receiving oral sex from a female prisoner, a government contractor engaged in an act of sodomy with a male prisoner and scenes of forced masturbation, forced exhibition, and penetration involving phosphorous sticks and brooms.

These descriptions come on the heels of a British report yesterday about the photographs that contained some of these revelations—and whose credibility was questioned by the Pentagon.

The Daily Beast has obtained specific corroboration of the British account, which appeared in the London Daily Telegraph, from several reliable sources, including a highly credible senior military officer with firsthand knowledge, who provided even more detail about the graphic photographs that have been withheld from the public by the Obama administration.

A senior military officer familiar with the photos told me that they would likely provoke a storm of outrage if released...

Still other withheld photographs have been circulating among U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq. One soldier showed them to me, including a photograph in which a male in a U.S. military uniform receives oral sex from a female prisoner.

The photographs differ from those already officially released. Some show U.S. personnel engaged in sexual acts with prisoners and each other. In one, a female prisoner appears to have been forced to expose her breasts to be photographed.

Here's Obama's statement at the time he decided to withhold the pictures:

Now, let me also say a few words about an issue that I know you asked Robert Gibbs about quite a bit today, and that's my decision to argue against the release of additional detainee photos. Understand, these photos are associated with closed investigations of the alleged abuse of detainees in our ongoing war effort.

And I want to emphasize that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib, but they do represent conduct that did not conform with the Army Manual.

That's precisely why they were investigated -- and, I might add, investigated long before I took office -- and, where appropriate, sanctions have been applied.

In other words, this is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action. Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes. And the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.

It's therefore my belief that 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. And obviously the thing that is most important in my mind is making sure that we are abiding by the Army Manual and that we are swiftly investigating any instances in which individuals have not acted appropriately, and that they are appropriately sanctioned. That's my aim and I do not believe that the release of these photos at this time would further that goal.

I wrote before that his last point implying that the Army won't investigate if pictures are released, is an abdication of presidential leadership. The military is not allowed to decide whether or not they will investigate abuses based upon their anger or fear that they might become public. Just as the previous administration and members of congress should not be validating the threat that the CIA will refuse to keep the country safe if they're not given immunity for their crimes, neither should the president in any way sanction the idea that the military has the power not to investigate crimes if they might become public.

Be that as it may, the pertinent part of his comments are those before that, in which he says that there is nothing new in the photos and that they've all been investigated and properly dealt with. If these pictures are those which Horton describes --- and which the military seems to be most anxious to withhold from the public --- then he was either duped by the Pentagon or he was not being truthful with the public. Nobody can find a record of prosecutions for those crimes.

The Pentagon and the White House have been very, very clumsily denying this story, lashing out at the British Press and denying the pictures even exist. They have also explicitly said that the pictures do not depict anything other than what was already seen in the earlier pictures and then used that as an excuse for not releasing them. This does not add up.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that these particular pictures will inflame anti-American hatred. If they are what Horton says they are, they are of a magnitude worse than what we've seen already. But that also raises the question of cover-up of the crimes they depict. Either there's nothing new, in which case the pictures should be released because the excuse that they would inflame the middle east is nonsense --- or the pictures are far worse than what we've seen before in which case the administration has to come clean about what's in them and what specific actions have been taken by the Pentagon. They can't have it both ways.

Update: just to be clear --- I am aware that there is a dispute about which photos are being discussed, which I indicated in my earlier post. My post said that confusion about that was part of the problem.

Horton is saying they ARE the same pictures. I do not have independent knowledge that they are.

This is the problem with lack of transparency. The withholding of the pictures naturally led to this speculation because of the administration's idiotic excuse: that they were not as bad as the earlier photos, but nonetheless would cause an uproar in the middle east. That excuse did not make sense. If they were no worse then there's no reason to believe that they would cause an uproar. It's only if they depict these other far worse (and unprosecuted) crimes that you can justify holding them back for that reason.

They created this problem themselves.

Update II: And yes, I realize that many of these incidents have been described in the past. The problem, again, is that Obama said these pictures are actually not as bad as earlier ones and that the incidents had been legally dealt with, which certainly indicates they are not the same pictures that are being discussed here.

I don't know the facts about that, but there are many questions that aren't answered by merely asserting that this is old news. Ignoring the logical contradiction between what's described and what the administration says is in the photos is failing to be properly skeptical.

There's one way to straighten this out. They need to come clean about what photos exist and the disposition of the investigations into them. They don't even have to release them to do that. But this dancing around only raises suspicions.