WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. John McCain urged President Barack Obama Thursday to classify photographs said to depict the abuse of terrorism suspects to ensure they do not become public.
Obama is fighting release of the photos in the courts but has not declared them secret.
"All he has to do today is use an executive order to declare these photos classified material," said McCain who lost the 2008 presidential election to Obama.
"That's all he has to do," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The photos, taken by U.S. personnel, are at the heart of a political debate in Washington. Some Democrats want them released as a way to close the books on Bush-era harsh interrogation practices that Obama has banned.
Obama reversed himself last month, after initially agreeing to release them in response to a court order in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The president sided with military commanders who want to avoid making them public fearing they would unleash a backlash against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The issue has gotten caught up in the Democratic-controlled Congress, where Democrats and Republicans have battled over whether to create a "truth commission" to investigate the treatment of terrorism suspects.
Two of McCain's Senate allies, Joe Lieberman, an independent Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican, attempted to include a provision in a spending bill that would prohibit for three years the disclosure of images of abused prisoners photographed from Sept. 11, 2001, to Jan. 22, 2009.
Democrats in the House want to cut the provision as a way to induce enough Democratic votes to pass the $100 billion spending bill.
McCain said an executive order from Obama ordering them classified "would give Congress time to act to make sure that the photos are not released."
McCain cited comments from General Ray Odierno, U.S. commander in Iraq, and General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command that oversees military operations in the Middle East, in opposing release of the photos.
"Releasing the photos would not supply new information about the issue of detainee abuse, but rather expose graphic evidence of past wrongdoing and put our fighting men and women in greater danger," he said.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)
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