Leading article: Obama is right on Abu Ghraib pictures

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The Independent Online

For anyone living in an open and democratic country, the suppression of information is anathema. So President Barack Obama's decision to oppose the release of new pictures that show US troops abusing prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison seems, at first sight, to be deplorable and a contradiction of everything he stood for during his campaign. And this is indeed how it has been greeted by many of his most fervent supporters in the US and abroad. They put his latest move together with his decision not to prosecute CIA agents for the use of torture, and accuse him of having "sold out" to entrenched interests.

What might appear to make matters worse is that the White House had initially said it would not oppose a court ruling ordering the Pentagon to release the pictures by 28 May. It is only now, as that date approaches, that Mr Obama says he has changed his mind. Not only, you might say, has he betrayed his principles but he has vacillated and enacted a U-turn.

It is unlikely that Mr Obama's critics will be inclined to reverse tracks as smartly he has done, but they should think again. There is no question here of the administration trying to cover up something the US public does not know about. Publication of the first pictures of Abu Ghraib, in The New Yorker magazine, was completely justified. But what purpose would new pictures serve beyond confirming what is already known: that the "war on terror" fostered abuse of prisoners, which was unacceptable, probably illegal, and endemic?

This is one reason Mr Obama gave for opposing their release. The other was the anti-Americanism they could inflame and the additional danger this would pose to US troops. Some will still argue that he has heeded the warnings from his top brass rather than the better angels of his idealism. But this is not what we see. We see someone who took an informed decision, not as campaigner, but as President. He took the trouble to listen, to consider advice and then to explain why he had changed his mind. That is a mark not of weakness, but of a grown-up leader addressing a grown-up audience. We could do with a bit more of this around the world.