President Obama has won his fight to ensure that the Defense Department can conceal evidence of its employees’ wrongdoing. On Thursday, the House passed a measure allowing the DoD to withhold essentially any photos of detainee abuse that it doesn’t want the public to see. The move is a huge defeat for the ACLU, which has been fighting a years-long legal battle to obtain such photos under the Freedom of Information Act. But now an amendment sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), makes all that moot and slashes a huge hole in FOIA. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) was a key figure in stopping Lieberman’s photo suppression bill the first time around. In a floor speech Thursday, she explained that this time, the provision was slipped into the Homeland Security spending bill during the conference between House and Senate negotiators—”apparently under direct orders from the Administration.”
I’ve written before about how poorly President Obama’s support for this photo suppression measure reflects on his promise of transparency. It would actually be a mistake to blame the sponsor, Joe Lieberman, for its passage. This would never have happened without the administration’s support. And this latest move does not bode well for the prospects of achieving accountability for torture. If this administration can’t even bring itself to release years-old photos of detainee abuse, how will it ever bring those responsible for torture to justice?