WASHINGTON: If the last few weeks have taught this country anything, it's the unavoidable power of the picture.
Americans have known for more than a year that the Pentagon was forbidding the media from photographing troops' coffins as they returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, but it took actual pictures of flag-draped caskets showing up in the paper to spark the kind of emotional debate we saw last month.
Likewise, the "recent" revelations that American troops were abusing and mistreating Iraqi inmates in Abu Ghraib prison. Allegations and studies documenting the abuse began appearing in newspapers months ago, but it was only with the surfacing of pictures that the current outrage took hold.
It's a lesson seemingly lost on the White House, which as of press time was still choosing not to release to the public a remaining cache of photographs and videos documenting the abuse.
Its fears are understandable - the global backlash against the US has already claimed at least one life, and the pictures not yet seen are reportedly more severe than much of what is currently circulating. There's little doubt the release of the remaining images will compound the world's already palpable disgust.
But in the Internet Age, "withholding" such pictures ensures only that they will come to light gradually, one at a time, causing fresh outrage with every shot and prolonging the scandal indefinitely. Stalling their release only delays the exhaustion of ammunition for the media.
It's a point that was made passionately by a litany of senators and pundits last week, not to mention Bush's communications advisors, according to The New York Times.
But the point is made best by the actual photos. Neither the images of flag-draped coffins nor the original crop of Abu Ghraib photos were ever intended for distribution. The only difference with the ones that have not yet been released is that the public already knows they exist.