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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.)

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