Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Power of Images, Presidents & the Press

The 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.”
- President Obama on reversing his decision to release detainee abuse images

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.”
- Anthony Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., on the president’s decision to bar the release of detainee abuse images

Images from wars have long played into domestic and international politics, most notably during the Vietnam War, which was dubbed the "living room war" for its extensive television coverage. Images from wars have been used to solidify anti-war movements and fan the flames of patriotism.

President George H.W. Bush's administration imposed a ban on media coverage of returning flag-draped coffins during the Gulf War in 1991. In 2000 President Clinton allowed photographs of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base bearing the remains of military personnel killed in the bombing of the USS Cole to be distributed to the media. Under President George W. Bush an image of the transfer at Dover of the remains of a victim of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on September 11 was published.

But images of flag draped coffins from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were prohibited during George W. Bush’s administration. Images depicting detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison were made public in 2004, but they were not officially released by the U.S. government at that time. President Obama, who reversed the ban on media coverage of returning flag-draped coffins, initially said that he would release images depicting U.S. military personnel abusing captives. He has reversed his previous decision and has decided to attempt to block their release.

Teaching with the Constitution
Remind your students to highlight and click on the text of the Constitution to read Linda Monk's commentary.

Ask your students to read Article II section 2 and then read the 1st Amendment. Ask them, does the press have a right to publish these images if they are not top secret. Ask them if they believe the president has the authority, as Commander in Chief, to block the release of these images.

Ask them what types of images from war should or should not be relapsed to the public and the reasons for their answers. Then ask them why did the framers of the Constitution think it necessary to have a free and independent press in a democracy.

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