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Commentary: Let's get out the truth about detainee photos

  • Story Highlights
  • Janis Karpinski calls President Obama's reversal on the release of photos sad
  • Ex-Abu Ghraib commander says reversal will stir speculation about what's in photos
  • Karpinski: Are military commanders concerned photos will reflect badly on them?
  • Insurgents are determined to fight the U.S., regardless of photos, Karpinski says
By Janis Karpinski
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Janis Karpinski is a retired U.S. Army colonel. As a brigadier general in the 800th Military Police Brigade, she was in charge of the Abu Ghraib prison and other detention facilities during the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Karpinski was demoted in the aftermath of the prisoner abuse scandal. The Army inspector general found that her performance of duty was "seriously lacking," but "the investigation determined that no action or lack of action on her part contributed specifically to the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib." Karpinski has maintained that she was a scapegoat for the actions of higher-ranking people in the military. She is the author of "One Woman's Army."

Janis Karpinski says it would better to release the photos and talk about preventing abuse in the future.

Janis Karpinski says it would better to release the photos and talk about preventing abuse in the future.

(CNN) -- About-face! President Obama's reversal of his administration's decision to release more photographs of prisoner abuse is disappointing and infuriating.

It is sad and tragic. The reversal will absolutely stir up more controversy than release of the photographs, causing an outpouring of rampant speculation -- What is the government hiding? Who are the people in the photographs? How awful can these new photos be? And worse.

The president is going to Egypt, and discussions surrounding the photographs are inevitable. He is far better off armed with the ability to have open discussions on all topics instead of apologizing for holding back information. Withholding evidence is counterproductive and does not sound like "truth," and it surely does not sound like "change."

The truth is always helpful. If we put all the photographs on the table, clearing the air, then, and only then, we can get on with the discussion of how to make sure this never happens again. The truth will set us free -- free to find the roots of the problem, allowing us to do what we did best -- making the world a better place to live.

In announcing the reversal, Obama said, "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." He added, "In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger."

But Obama will "own" the total picture, these photographs and the issues of torture and abuse if he insists on keeping these photographs under wraps. The efforts of senior military commanders advising the president, encouraging him to reverse his decision on releasing these photographs of prisoner abuse, seem more desperate than earnest.

They say they fear the outrage from the insurgency if the photographs are released. But is the outrage they most fear the outrage from Americans and people around the world as more details of the intentional lies and deception are revealed?

The warnings of likely reactions to these photographs possibly endangering the safety of soldiers and civilians in the combat zones strike a loud chord of fear. The wars are not going well. The military commanders know the wars are not going well. No secret there. To release or not release becomes a diversion from the main issue about the military missions.

The president surely does not want to increase the risk to soldiers, but hey, soldiers are in jeopardy every day in Iraq and Afghanistan with or without the photographs.

How can more photos hold such explosive risk? Are the most damning pieces of information the date stamps on the photographs or the locations of the abuses? Or are the commanders simply anxious because people will be able to connect more dots and finally realize prisoner abuse was far more than "seven bad apples" and occurred long before there was a war in Iraq -- perhaps in areas of responsibility under their command.

Do these same commanders, advising the president, have something far more important at risk and do the photographs reveal far more than what they want revealed? Are these details the strongest motivation for a president to make such a controversial decision and flip-flop on the promise of transparency?

The insurgency is organized, well led and highly motivated, with a goal of making the invaders go away. The insurgents are all too painfully aware of what was happening in interrogations and interrogation facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This reversal will only empower them further to stay the course. We are not kidding anyone. Did anyone report a rise in insurgency activity following the release of the interrogation memos? No.

It is a ruse to suggest the photographs may endanger the lives of soldiers serving in the region. These photographs are not going to imperil coalition forces any more than the perils they are facing each and every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, so why delay?

The photographs will be released eventually. There is no valid justification to reverse a decision to release more photographs of prisoner abuse. We are better than this as a nation.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Janis Karpinski.

All About Barack ObamaInsurgenciesU.S. Armed Forces Activities

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