* ACLU sharply critical of Obama decision
* White House likely to seek court order
* Obama defends decision
(Adds more details, reaction throughout)
By Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON, May 13 In a reversal, President
Barack Obama said on Wednesday he would fight the release of
dozens of photographs showing the abuse of terrorism suspects,
over concern the images could ignite a backlash against U.S.
The decision was a blow to some liberals in Obama's
Democratic Party who see the photos as part of a broader effort
to investigate Bush-era officials and cleanse America's image
Just last month the Obama administration had said it would
comply with a court order to release the pictures by May 28,
saying legal options for appealing the case had been limited.
But Obama shifted gears after senior military commanders
and some members of Congress expressed misgivings about the
potential for the photos to generate violence against U.S.
troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama defended his decision, saying publication of the
photographs "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," Obama told reporters.
"Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have
a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration
is likely to seek a court order aiming at blocking the release
of the photos, which had been expected within weeks.
Gibbs was peppered with questions about Obama's shift in
course. He said Obama, who has seen some of the pictures, told
his legal team last week that he did not feel comfortable with
'MAKES A MOCKERY'
The American Civil Liberties Union, which argued for the
photos' release, expressed outrage and said the decision "makes
a mockery" of Obama's campaign promise of transparency.
"It's absolutely essential that these photos be released so
the public can examine for itself the torture and abuse that
was conducted in its name, and so that high-level officials who
authorized or permitted that abuse can be held accountable,"
ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said.
The human rights group Amnesty International said it was
"Human beings have been tortured and denied basic rights.
The American people have been lied to, and government officials
who authorized and justified abusive policies have been given a
pass," said the group's executive director, Larry Cox. He said
the full story had not been told.
But the shift was welcomed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a
Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent, who said
Obama "did exactly the right thing."
"The fact that the president reconsidered the decision is a
strength not a weakness," they said in a statement.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he had had second
thoughts about the decision to release the pictures after
hearing the concerns of the top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan
and Iraq, U.S. Army Generals David McKiernan and Ray Odierno.
"Our commanders, both General McKiernan and General
Odierno, have expressed very serious reservations about this,
and their very great worry that release of these photographs
will cost American lives," Gates told U.S. lawmakers.
"That was all it took for me."
Obama inflamed partisan tensions in Washington in April by
releasing memos written by Bush-era Justice Department lawyers
that provided the legal justification for harsh interrogation
tactics such as waterboarding, which is simulated drowning.
On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the first of what could be a
series of hearings about the topic was held. A former FBI
agent, Ali Soufan, argued that methods like waterboarding
produced unreliable evidence and were ineffective.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has argued that the
tactics did provide valuable intelligence and has appealed to
the Obama administration to release memos that detail the
Some Democrats, such as House of Representatives Speaker
Nancy Pelosi, have been calling for appointment of a "truth
commission" to conduct a public probe into Bush administration
But Obama has been wary of such an investigation.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray and James Vicini; Writing
by Steve Holland, Editing by Simon Gardner)