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Al-Qaeda's PR Machine By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, April 28, 2009


IF HISTORY IS ANY GUIDE, A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND JIHADISTS. In 2004, after the media published photos of Abu Ghraib and leftist politicians blamed America, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi prefaced his beheading of Nicholas Berg with these words: “we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins...slaughtered in this way.” Yet those images had a more lasting impact on the War on Terror. John McCain revealed four months ago that “a former high-ranking member of al-Qaeda” told him “‘the greatest recruiting tool we had – we were able to recruit thousands of young men,’ he said – ‘was Abu Ghraib.’”  

Yet America’s dark history of releasing compromising photos is not detaining President Obama from handing al-Qaeda a veritable public relations coup. The media have emphasized that he plans to release 44 photos of interrogators abusing detainees by May 28; however, sources report the administration will release a “substantial number” of other images, and up to 2,000 photos in all could be divulged.  

The offense of Abu Ghraib was not that it revealed typical interrogation techniques; all the methods employed violated the Interrogation Rules of Engagement, and the military had already begun trying the guilty before the leak. The import was not even the acts themselves, lurid as they may have been. The importance was the photos, which shocked everyone who viewed them on the now-defunct 60 Minutes II – photos beamed around the Muslim world to confirm the darkest imaginations of the jihadist heart: this is how Americans treat innocent Arabs. It may have helped if leftist politicians had not taken pains to present Abu Ghraib as the official face of the American fighting man (as David Horowitz and I document in Party of Defeat, pp. 106-111). 

For this reason, the Pentagon opposed releasing any additional photos. In 2005, then-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers warned, “It is probable that al-Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill, which will result in, besides violent attacks, increased terrorist recruitment, continued financial support, and exacerbation of tensions between Iraqi and Afghani populaces and U.S. and Coalition forces.”  Both Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who led the ground war in Iraq, opposed the release.  

But surely theirs were proxy partisan excuses on behalf of the Bush administration, right?  

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told NPR’s “All Things Considered” last week, “we have top officers in our military who say the first and second cause of combat deaths in Iraq – our people – were the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” Nonetheless, Levin cited his committee’s flawed report on torture that Abu Ghraib embodied official U.S. policy.  

What effect, then, will the release of new and damning photos have? The Chicago Tribune reported last week even Obama administration “Defense Department officials would not say exactly what is contained in the photos but said they are concerned the release could incite a Mideast backlash.”  

Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, admitted, “I do think it will be used as a propaganda tool and have some damaging impact.” Even The Huffington Post noted Kerry “did concede that the pictures ‘will be used as a tool... as were the other photos [from Abu Ghraib].’”  

In other words, leftists understand and expect that this will harm America’s safety and increase jihadist activity – and they’re plowing ahead, anyway. But Teresa’s better half cited the Left’s all-important rationale: “But this didn't happen under Obama; it happened under Bush, and everyone understands that.”  

Kerry – ever the champion of nuance – demonstrates why he could not be trusted with national security. The jihadist media will not rejoice that The One has inaugurated different interrogation methods (or rather, they will, but for different reasons). No one will notice the Pentagon took these photographs during the course of its 60 investigations into detainee abuse or that it has “taken more than 400 disciplinary actions against U.S. military personnel found to have been involved in such abuse,” including sentencing some uniformed offenders to jail time. Releasing these photos will incline a wider audience to behead innocent Americans on the grounds this abuse was widespread, condoned behavior. 

The ACLU, which fought a multi-year battle for the photographs’ release, has already sounded their trumpet. “This shows that the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was not aberrational but was systemic and widespread,” said ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh in a statement picked up by the Egyptian press. “This will underscore calls for accountability for that abuse.” 

And that is the key to understanding this disclosure, which the Bush administration fought even after Obama’s election. The new administration could appeal this case to the Supreme Court – as former Assistant Director Dr. Mark Lowenthal advised. “They should have fought it all the way; if they lost, they lost,” he said. Instead, the administration is turning over potentially thousands of al-Qaeda recruitment posters on the grounds that they have no choice. ABC’s Jake Tapper confronted Robert Gibbs on the hypocrisy: “you’re acting as if you guys aren’t actors in this. You are releasing information when you could be fighting it.”  

Gibbs defended his actions later in the press conference, saying, “I think the president took swift action to change our image in the world.”  

That he has. Upon taking office, Barack Obama promptly signed three executive orders closing Guantanamo Bay within one year, shuttering rendition "black sites," and binding interrogators to the Army Field Manual for high value detainees. He stepped away from the maximum, and exceedingly rare, interrogation techniques his predecessor allowed. Instead, what Bush authorized, Obama publicized, releasing memos describing less-than-shocking “torture” tactics. In the process, he gave our enemies vital information, not only on how far we were willing to go, but how far we are no longer willing to go. He has opened the door to prosecuting legal advisers in the previous administration and led the CIA to believe they will no longer “get top cover if something goes wrong.” He has now refused to stand his ground in the U.S. court system against the Legal Left – the same forces fighting to invest Guantanamo Bay detainees with the rights of a jury trial and charge Bush administration officials with war crimes. Under President Bush, the United States enjoyed a reputation as a nation that vigorously prosecutes captured terrorists and defends those who stand on its front lines. In three months, President Obama has reversed that. Quite a 100-day accomplishment.

Taken together, it becomes clear Obama seeks to elevate his image by turning the Bush administration into a moral pariah. However, his decisions are undoing the edifice that protected this nation for seven years – and even his administration publicly fears his latest move alone will supercharge al-Qaeda recruitment. As a whole, his Homeland Security policy is either a stunning series of unmitigated naivete, megalomania, spite for President Bush, or hatred of his own country.

Whatever the answer, it is the citizens of the United States who will pay for it.


Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and co-author, with David Horowitz, of the book Party of Defeat. He is also the author of the books Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts (2009) and 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving (2004).


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