The release of dozens of new, graphic images of detainees being abused by their American captors would almost certainly reignite international rage. It could lead to an angry backlash in the Middle East and to more jihadi recruits, as the Abu Ghraib photographs did in 2004. It could even lead to new outbursts of violence at a moment when the Obama administration was finally hoping to put the last eight ugly years behind us.
But the truth must out. The Pentagon was right when it agreed last month to abide by a judge's order and release the photos, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. And President Obama was wrong Wednesday when he reversed that position.
It's terrible that the president was faced with such an unpalatable choice, but it's just one of the many awful results of the culture of torture and lawlessness put in place by the Bush administration. This country has already alienated allies and seen its moral standing crumble. Now, as we try to get to the bottom of what happened during those years, we have to acknowledge that doing so might put us in further danger.
Obama's announcement that he would seek to bar the release of the photos came after Gens. Ray Odierno, David McKiernan and David Petraeus all expressed concern that releasing them could cost American lives. A Pentagon spokesman said they believe it's the "last thing we need" at this critical moment in Afghanistan.