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Is Obama embracing Bush-Cheney terrorism policies?

May 14, 2009 |  8:22 am

First, President Obama reversed course, deciding to fight court release of 44 controversial photos allegedly showing abuse of terror suspects held in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the Ticket and others reported, Obama said yesterday:

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.

Now, reports the Wall Street Journal, the administration is weighing plans to detain some terrorism suspects on U.S. soil — indefinitely and without trial — hardly in keeping with the president's harsh campaign rhetoric about treatment of terrorism suspects.

All of this is comforting to Republicans like South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who wrote to the White House last week urging the president not to release the photos. "He's realized the difference between being a candidate and being commander in chief," said Graham.

But liberals are furious, charging that Obama — the darling of the liberal blogosphere during the presidential campaign — has been co-opted by a steady stream of criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney and is covering up the crimes of George W. Bush.

The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit to seek release of the photos in the first place, was livid. Said Executive Director Anthony D. Romero:

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. ... It is true that these photos would be disturbing; the day we are no longer disturbed by such repugnant acts would be a sad one. ... And when these photos do see the light of day, the outrage will focus not only on the commission of torture by the Bush administration but on the Obama administration's complicity in covering them up.

Then there's this. Jane Hamsher, founder of the Fire Dog Lake blog, told the Washington Post, “Since he’s been inaugurated, Barack Obama has demonstrated a remarkable desire to keep evidence of Bush crimes generally, and Bush’s torture regime specifically, concealed. ... There is a growing sense that he is becoming complicit in the crimes he is attempting desperately to shield from public scrutiny.”

Or, as Talking Points Memo put it, "very lame."

For all the heat Obama is talking on the left, some commentators see Obama's recent shift in policy not as a capitulation but as a brilliant political ploy by a president who has come to understand that protecting U.S. troops is his first responsibility — and a mission embraced by most Americans.

As my colleagues Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook put it, "In following the advice of military leaders, who had expressed fears of a backlash in the Middle East if the pictures were released, Obama now can tell critics on the right that he did his best to protect the nation's troops, even if the courts eventually force the disclosure."

Or, as the Washington Post's David Ignatius speculated, maybe this is Obama's "Sister Soulja moment," a reference to Bill Clinton's decision to go after rap culture during his presidential campaign, a move that cost him some support on the left but burnished his credentials as a centrist.

— Johanna Neuman

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