Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said the administration’s decision to release supposed prisoner abuse photos as part of a current ACLU lawsuit is politically motivated.
“It’s clear they’re giving in” Bolton said, “and I don’t understand the reason for that…The only explanation that makes sense for the administration’s decision is political, because they think it’ll reflect adversely on the Bush administration.”
The Obama administration’s other option was to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which Bolton thinks was worth pursuing. The photos are being released as part of a Second Circuit Court ruling on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the Bush administration in 2004. The court refused to rehear the case on appeal.
“It seems to me this is worth taking to the Supreme Court to litigate whether a president can say, ‘I deem it inappropriate on national security grounds to let these photographs, or memos, or whatever the case might be, from going public,” Bolton said. That way, according to Bolton, the president would have done his utmost to protect national interests regardless of the Court’s final ruling.
Bolton says he thinks a conservative in the Oval Office would have taken a different route, saying the president, as commander in chief, has a constitutional obligation to try to prevent lawsuits like this from interfering in the conduct of foreign policy.
“I think a conservative president would have litigated as far as he could to protect the constitutional prerogatives of the executive,” Bolton said. “That includes determining from the executive perspective what our foreign policy and national security interests are.”
Bolton said the move cripples several administrations’ efforts in the (now politically incorrect phrase) War on Terror and ultimately puts partisanship ahead of broader national security interests.
“I think it’s to satisfy the constituency in the Democrat party that has been complaining about this for quite some time,” Bolton said.
Bolton said a lot of the of the harm was done from Bush administration not explaining what it was doing more widely and earlier on, though he adds that it was important Congress was briefed on the activities (including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, depending on which interview of hers you believe) and nobody raised an objection or tried to offer legislation to block the practices. He does believe the photos will “unquestionably” harm the national security of the United States
The Defense Department is scheduled to release the pictures May 28. The pictures, according to the ACLU’s website, are from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell said in an AFP article that the photos date from 2001 to 2006.
Bolton pointed out that several members of the U.S. military involved in setting up and taking abuse pictures were disciplined for breach of their responsibilities.
“What that means is — without seeing the pictures at all — we know that our system works,” Bolton said.
For him, however, the entire debate needs to be shifted. And he wants to start from square one: asking critics what they would do if a terrorist held by U.S. forces and believed to have information about future terrorist activities simply refused to answer questions.
“The tactic we ought to approach is to say, ‘Alright, critics. If you don’t like this line, we want to know what line you’re prepared to draw,’” Bolton said. “If [their answer is], ‘Well, I’d deprive him of sleep, but I wouldn’t play rock music 24 hours a day,’ let’s hear that answer…
“Then you go to the American people and say, ‘This was all that they were prepared to do to extract information about future terrorist attacks. We don’t think that’s sufficient, and this shows why their approach won’t be enough to protect America.’”
And if there’s a strong overall critic of Obama’s foreign policy, it’s Bolton.
“Well, if this were a political campaign in the first hundred days, you’d have to say he’s doing very well,” Bolton said. “But in foreign policy terms…he is signaling a new era of American weakness. He obviously doesn’t think that’s what he’s doing, but I do think that is the effect of everything he’s putting out there.”
Bolton had a list of poor impressions Obama made on foreign policy: his inadequate response to the North Korean ballistic missile launch, his failure to get a substantial European commitment to materially increase their combat troops in Afghanistan, and his administration’s pressuring of Israel to accept a two-state solution.
“All of these things signal that America is not content any longer to have a leadership role in the world, and that will encourage others, I think, to press us and to press our friends and allies around the world,” Bolton said.