"Transparency" is indeed the crux of the issue here, but not in the way that the ACLU (or perhaps the Obama administration) understands it. What underwrites the ACLU's position is a commitment to the idea that photographs provide transparent evidence of unconscionable, illegal behavior by US soldiers. For the ACLU photographs are understood chiefly as evidentiary; the right of the public to know about their government's behavior is the fundamental principle on which their argument rests. This right to know is more important than considerations about the consequences of making the photographs public. Transparency, not affectivity, is foremost for the ACLU.
For the Obama administration, on the other hand, knowledge of the existence of the photographs and the kinds of behavior they show is enough. Or perhaps more accurately, the need for the American public to have photographic evidence of this behavior is outweighed by the global affective and military consequences that releasing these photographs would produce. Obama's argument for withholding the photographs is based not upon what the photographs depict, about the knowledge they would provide about unlawful, inhuman behavior by US soldiers, but about how the photographs would act in the world as media artifacts. The photos "would not add any additional benefit to our understanding," he insists, but would "further inflame anti-American opinion" and endanger "our troops." Affectivity, not transparency, guides Obama's decision to bar the release of these photographs.
My aim in unpacking the assumptions underlying this debate is not to make a strong case either for or against the release of the photographs (although as an academic scholar I generally tend to favor accessibility to and availability of the historical record). Rather I invoke this debate because of its affinities to the argument I make about Abu Ghraib in my forthcoming book--that the outrage produced by the release and distribution of the Abu Ghraib photographs derived less from their evidentiary transparency than from their affectivity as media artifacts. Obama's justification for barring the release of these 2000-plus additional photographs, because of their affective potential to inflame anti-American opinion and thus further endanger US troops, restages part of my argument about the Abu Ghriab photographs--that their powerful global impact can be explained less by what they showed the public than by what they did. While I have sympathy with the ACLU's arguments about transparency of government I find their single-minded focus on the evidentiary transparency of the photographs to be medialogically naive.