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Flawed logic on abuse photos

Why the administration's weak legal arguments should take a back seat to what's best for the country.

The Bush administration’s legal justifications for not releasing the new Iraqi abuse photos are not particularly convincing and yet, the decision not to release them is probably the right one.

While heading to Iraq Thursday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, essentially offered three legal explanations for why the administration will not release the new abuse photos.

Number one, that the release could hinder the prosecution of those responsible—that it could be perceived as command influence by the most senior officials. Two, that it would violate the privacy of some soldiers seen in the photos who may have done nothing wrong. Three, that it would violate the Geneva Convention’s mandate that prisoners not be subjected to humiliation and public curiosity.

Well, none of these are frivolous arguments. They are all hyper-technical ones that probably should take a back seat to the broader question of what’s best for the country. Here's why these arguments don't work:

It’s true that some defense attorneys for the accused will likely argue that the highest-level officials have already polluted the jury pool and that the release of more photos would give them one more piece of ammunition. But those are almost certainly losing arguments that will not have any practical impact on the trials.

Also, the privacy of the other soldiers in the photos could be easily be protected by blurring their faces or even not releasing a select few photos.

Number three is, I find, the best of their arguments: that it's likely a violation of the Geneva Convention to release humiliating photos. Secretary Rumsfeld has said that we are adhering to the Geneva Convention when it comes to Iraq. But this sudden adherence to the Geneva Convention is a bit disingenuous: One could certainly argue that showing the picture of Saddam Hussein after his capture was likely a violation, as well as other photos of captured Iraqi soldiers.

But why are they relying on these weak legal arguments? Why is it inevitable, as everyone says, that these photos will be leaked? Why can’t the administration just echo the words of Republican Sen. John Warner and say that we fear that the release might incite anger against our forces? And why not argue that now that the world knows of the abuse, there’s no real reason to release more of the same?

Unpersuasive legal arguments may only undermine our case in the court of world opinion.