05/15/2009 04:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reading The Pictures: The Effect Of Withholding Terror Photos (Or: "Obama The Front Man")


One problem for Obama -- in refusing to release pictorial documentation of torture from the Bush "terror war" era (after having committed to doing so) -- is that, visually, it is not a zero-sum game.

What it does in its place is evoke and encourage other visual narratives that inevitably shape a presidency. One effect this will have, for example, is to raise the focus on Obama's increasingly sympathetic and even symbiotic relationship with Gates and Petraeus (especially coming immediately after the unceremonious dismissal of our Afghan Commander) with the suggestion that Obama is being unusually subservient to the military-- an idea in play in this Getty image taken two weeks ago outside the White House.

The political calculation to flip-flop and side with the military -- and, in effect, adopt the Bush/Cheney narrative of "defending the troops" over getting the truth out and purging the government of Bush terror war imagery -- starts to move Obama's visual identity (like Bush's, I'm afraid) in the direction of "the war President" or "the Pentagon's President" or "The CIA's President" or "The NSA's President."

Further, in so dismissively erasing those terror war visuals, it serves to pictorially heighten and strengthen -- both going forward and retrospectively -- his association with secrecy, with militarism, with the ball-and-chain of Afghanistan, and with torture.

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(image 1: Saul Loeb/Getty. White House. Washington, DC, April 30, 2009)