The bigger picture

May 13, 2009 1:33:53 PM PDT
I learned a while ago, and I'll admit I learned the hard way, that we often have no way of really knowing all the evidence and calculations that go into decision making. I've sometimes gone into my boss's office to question something, and then left realizing I had only a fraction of the bigger picture that went into his decision.

I say all this as prelude to our reporting tonight on Pres. Obama's decision not to release at least 44 -- but likely a lot more -- pictures showing U.S. military personnel allegedly abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. What makes this news is that the President has long insisted that releasing the photographs is part of acknowledging past abuses - abuses condoned and, some say, fostered by Bush Administration policies - and having "transparency" in his White House.

The photos were ordered released after the ACLU sued under the Freedom of Information Act.

But now the 180-degree switcheroo.

The President's peeps say he changed his mind after top military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan told him they worried that the release of the pictures could endanger the troops.

To many, from the outside, that might seem a stretch. After all U.S. troops have already invaded those two countries, they are already in harm's way, and thousands have already died.

Or maybe it's because past Presidents have used the big blanket of national security to justify so many unjustifiable and indefensible acts.

Clearly we're not in the loop for all the arguments made by the military. And so there are many people who are giving the President the benefit of the doubt in his reversal of policy on the pictures.

The ACLU is not among them.

"The decision to suppress the photos is profoundly inconsistent with the promise of transparency that President Obama has made time after time," according to ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer.

On the other side, the President is getting kudos from the Secretary of Defense, and from two rather conservative Senators: Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina.

The picture debate involves more than just the photos themselves. The bigger issue is how much we focus on the past abuses of torture, and how much we concentrate on the future; how much do we hold people accountable for their actions, and how much do we write off?

There are compelling arguments on both sides, and it's easy to take the octopus argument; you know - on the one hand this, on the other hand that.

The truth may be that we move forward and also hold people accountable for their actions.

Tonight at 11, we'll have the latest on the photo release debate.

By the way, that controversy butts up against another Bush policy that Obama overturned: Media availability, which is to say public availability, of the return of the bodies of U.S. soldiers killed in action.

And tonight, the body of the first soldier from our area arrives back in the U.S. under this new policy of allowing the return to be publicly photographed. Sgt. Christian Bueno-Galdos lived in Paterson, New Jersey. The 25-year-old Peruvian native was on his second tour in Iraq when he was shot and killed by one of his comrades - identified by the Pentagon as Sgt. John Russell, who apparently freaked out during his third tour of duty.

The shootings - Russell is charged with killing five soldiers - took place at a clinic that cares for soldiers under stress. A recent study showed that mental health issues increase exponentially during a soldier's third or fourth tour of duty.

Tonight, Eyewitness News reporter Jen Maxfield is at Dover Air Base in Maryland for us tonight, with the story of Sgt. Bueno-Galdos' return.

Also at 11, a frightening story by our investigative reporter Jim Hoffer into that deadly natural gas explosion in Queens last month. Con Ed workers were repairing a gas leak in the neighborhood. But it turns out, there is no evacuation policy by the giant utility when they detect a leak. As one expert told Jim: "There's no Teflon shield between gas outside and gas inside."

But why isn't there?

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Scott Clark with the night's sports, and Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast. You can also see Lee's "Blog or Bust" by CLICKING HERE.

I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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