An Ethical Puzzler
First, the situation:
President Obama is seeking to block the release of photographs that depict American military personnel abusing captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, his spokesman said Wednesday, fearing the images could spark a hostile backlash against United States troops.
“The president reflected on this case and believes they have the potential to pose harm to our troops,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday afternoon.
The president’s decision marks a sharp reversal from a decision made last month by the Pentagon, which agreed in a case with the American Civil Liberties Union to release photographs showing incidents at Abu Ghraib and a half-dozen other prisons. At the time, the president signed off on the decision, saying he agreed with releasing the photos.
Now, the question:
Is the president allowed to change his mind on something like this? Is he allowed to look at the information, hear the urgings of people familiar with the situation, and reverse himself, even if it’s at odds with his previous position — and the change in position has moral and ethical repercussions?
My personal take on the question is that in a general sense a president can and should when he believes it is necessary… but that I seriously doubt this is one of those times. There are already more than enough pictures of American forces abusing prisoners out there to serve the task of recruitment for terrorists groups and to rile up anti-American sentiment; meanwhile, holding up the release of these photos simply makes it look like there’s something more to hide. This is one of those “just rip off the Band-Aid” moments — it’s best if you do it fast, take the pain and move on.
So in this case I think Obama’s doing the wrong thing. This is based on what I know, which is, of course, different from what he knows, and perhaps in his position, knowing what he knows I’d do what he’s doing here. But from this end, it looks like a bad call.
Floor is open.