- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

President Obama supported the release Tuesday of the Senate report detailing enhanced interrogation of terrorism suspects, although he twice suppressed photographs of the war on terrorism due to concern it might incite America’s enemies.

“This is not an exact science,” said a senior administration official trying to explain the president’s reversal.

In May 2009, Mr. Obama went to court to block the release of photographs showing U.S. troops abusing prisoners. He said he was worried that the pictures would “further inflame anti-American opinion” and endanger U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And in May 2011, the president refused to allow any photographs of the body of Osama bin Laden to be released after he was killed in a raid by U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan. The White House said the president didn’t want Islamist extremists to use the gruesome photos as a “propaganda tool” against U.S. personnel.

Even last week, Secretary of State John F. Kerry tried to talk Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, out of releasing the report on harsh interrogation of detainees.

But even as the administration launched a worldwide alert to prepare for violent reactions abroad to the report, presidential aides said Mr. Obama supported the release of the Senate report in the interests of transparency.

“We’re always balancing this question of this transparency that’s essential for our democratic institutions and actions that are aimed at protecting our individuals and facilities overseas,” said a senior administration official. “I think our judgment is to try to be as transparent as possible and manage the risk associated with transparency.”

The aide said that in 2009, Mr. Obama believed that releasing photographs of abused prisoners in Iraq would be too dangerous for the large number of U.S. troops serving there.

“At that particular instance of time, the president believed that the release of those photographs would raise the risks to U.S. personnel overseas,” the official said. “We also had at that period of time some 150,000 Americans serving in harm’s way, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we also have significantly less today.”

He also said the photographs of abused prisoners weren’t much different from pictures that had already been released of prisoners being mistreated at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and therefore the additional information wouldn’t add to the public record.

Prior to the report’s release, some Republicans warned that its publication would endanger U.S. troops and other Americans abroad.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, said America’s allies are predicting “this will cause violence and deaths.” He said U.S. intelligence agencies and foreign governments were warning privately that the report will be used by extremists to incite violence.

Rep. Charles Dent, Pennsylvania Republican, said Tuesday the release of the report “is incendiary and its release will put American lives overseas at risk.”

“U.S.-led forces are engaging [Islamic State] forces,” Mr. Dent said. “The release of the report could provide [the Islamic State] and other extremists groups an additional pretext to increase their gruesome practices that have included beheadings.”

The potential for violence against U.S. embassies has been of heightened concern after the attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 in which Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans were killed. The administration initially blamed that attack on outrage over an anti-Islam video produced in the U.S.; it was later determined to be a coordinated terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11.

Even some senior administration officials acknowledged the potential of the report’s release to provoke violence against U.S. outposts abroad, saying the White House has been working for five months to bolster security overseas in preparation.

“The president has been extremely focused on the protection of our personnel overseas,” said one administration official. “The redactions that were done [in the report], were done mindful of the national-security implications. And we have taken a series of steps, both in conducting the threat assessment and the mitigation measures … to address the potential reaction.”

Although the document released Tuesday was an executive summary of the actual report, administration officials said 93 percent of the full report was presented to the public.

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