Citing national security concerns, the White House said Wednesday that President Obama has decided to reverse his decision last month to release photographs of instances of detainee abuse.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs came under fire at his daily briefing because of previous statements he and other administration officials have made condoning the release of the pictures. At the time the president said he was ordering the release, the administration said a court ruling was all but irreversible.
Gibbs said Wednesday that the president, after meeting with his legal team last week, believes a new argument can be made to convince a court that national security would be imperiled by the release of the photographs.
"The president does not believe the strongest case was presented to the court," Gibbs said.
The White House can appeal the case to the Supreme Court before the June 8 deadline the lower court set for the photos to be released. Gibbs said the Justice Department will formulate a new case and likely seek a stay to prevent the forced release of the pictures.
Gibbs said the president has been "concerned" about the effect pictures of detainee abuse by U.S. troops could have on those currently serving. That is why he met with his legal team and ordered the reversal of policy.
"He believes that the release of these photos could present a threat to the men and women we have serving in Iraq and Afghanistan," Gibbs said.
Gibbs said Obama informed Gen. Ray Odierno, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Christopher Hill of his decision at the end of a meeting Tuesday.
Gibbs defended the president's change of mind, arguing that "nothing is added by the release of these photos," a position espoused repeatedly by some of Obama's top Republican critics.
"The existence of the detainee abuse cases is not denoted by the photos," Gibbs said.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said in a statement that the Obama administration's "adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president’s stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government."
“If the Obama administration continues down this path, it will betray not only its promises to the American people, but its commitment to this nation’s most fundamental principles," Romero said. "President Obama has said we should turn the page, but we cannot do that until we fully learn how this nation veered down the path of criminality and immorality, who allowed that to happen and whose lives were mutilated as a result. Releasing these photos — as painful as it might be — is a critical step toward that accounting. The American people deserve no less.”