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May 14, 2009

The Effect Of Withholding Terror Photos: The Front Man

Obama Gates.jpg

One problem for Obama — in refusing to release pictorial documentation of torture from the Bush “terror war” era (after having committed to doing so) — is that, visually, it is not a zero-sum game.

What it does in its place is evoke and encourage other visual narratives that inevitably shape a presidency. One effect this will have, for example, is to raise the focus on Obama’s increasingly sympathetic and even symbiotic relationship with Gates and Petraeus (especially coming immediately after the unceremonious dismissal of our Afghan Commander) with the suggestion that Obama is being unusually subservient to the military– an idea in play in this Getty image taken two weeks ago outside the White House.

The political calculation to flip-flop and side with the military — and, in effect, adopt the Bush/Cheney narrative of “defending the troops” over getting the truth out and purging the government of Bush terror war imagery — starts to move Obama’s visual identity (like Bush’s, I’m afraid) in the direction of “the war President” or “the Pentagon’s President” or “The CIA’s President” or “The NSA’s President.”

Further, in so dismissively erasing those terror war visuals, it serves to pictorially heighten and strengthen — both going forward and retrospectively — his association with secrecy, with militarism, with the ball-and-chain of Afghanistan, and with torture.

(slightly edited 1:20 pm PST. Added lead photo 1:40 pm PST, removed Obama/Petraeus helicopter photo)
(image 1: Saul Loeb/Getty. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates listens as US President Barack Obama speaks during a ceremony to start the White House to Light House Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, April 30, 2009. The program helps rehabilitate wounded veterans and Obama kicked off the start of a ride that will take the bikers from the White House to Arlington Cemetery, before continuing Friday to Annapolis, Maryland.)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/janinsanfran janinsanfran

    Exactly — the ball and chain of Afghanistan will likely sink this hopeful Presidency. Also probably Pakistan. There is no military solution. And covering for the lawbreaking (joining in it?) goes right along with the military adventure.
    Very appropriate to see the holdover Secretary of War upstaging the blithe young President.

  • http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/ yg

    somebody at gawker finally lays down the rationale to explain what pundits have been claiming, that regardless of what obama says, these photos will be released anyways.
    http://gawker.com/5253864/if-youre-angry-about-the-torture-photos-youre-being-played-by-obama?skyline=true&s=x
    update from greenwald. what gawker predicted comes to pass:
    UPDATE: Federal District Judge Alvin Hellerstein (.pdf) and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (.pdf) have both rejected the Bush arguments — now the Obama arguments — for suppressing these photographs, and held the the law clearly requires their public disclosure.

  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/14/obama-to-revive-military-_n_203783.html yg

    another counter to the claim that obama is siding with bush policies:
    via huffpo:
    Obama To Revive Military Tribunals For Gitmo Detainees, With More Rights

  • Jerry Holtaway

    I often wonder if the military/spy folk don’t take a new President and staff and ’scare the shit’ out of them with real – or, more likely imagined – scenarios if they don’t toe the line…
    Hence the gap between campaign promises (before they “know”) and Presidential decisions (after they’ve been, dare I say it, “terrorized” by the likes of the DOD, CIA and NSA).

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p00e5523476cc8834 DennisQ

    Maybe it’s from following BagNews, but Obama is starting to morph into Donald Trump. He’s adopting Trump’s lackadaisical approach to issues of personal values. Say anything, just don’t stop talking.
    All right, it’s a bit far-fetched, I’ll admit it. I remember being in the voting booth pulling the lever for Obama, thinking I hope I don’t regret this. But each day Obama crowns Dick Cheney’s head with laurel leaves reminds me of my misgivings on Election Day. I see Obama in just the same position as Donald Trump leaning forward to tell Carrie Prejean she can be as homophobic as she likes, it’s all the same to him. In Obama’s words, “What good would it do to object?”

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