Court orders release of Pentagon prisoner abuse pics
A federal appeals court on Monday ordered the Bush administration to hand over photos depicting abuse of prisoners held by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, handing the American Civil Liberties Union a victory in an ongoing public records lawsuit filed against the Pentagon.
“This is a resounding victory for the public’s right to hold the government accountable,” ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh, who argued before the court, said in a news release. “These photographs demonstrate that the abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody abroad was not aberrational and not confined to Abu Ghraib, but the result of policies adopted by high-ranking officials. Their release is critical for bringing an end to the administration’s torture policies and for deterring further prisoner abuse.”
The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the photographs in 2003 and took the government to court after the Department of Defense failed to comply, arguing that releasing the photos would violate its obligations to prisoners under the Geneva Conventions.
It is not clear whether Monday's decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New York, will bring the requested photos to light immediately. An ACLU attorney tells RAW STORY the group doesn't know what administration's next steps will be, but the governemnt may request an en banc review by all 12 judges on the appeals panel or it could take its case all the way to the Supreme Court.
"It's anyone's guess as to what they're going to do," said Amrit Singh, who argued the ACLU's case before the appeals court.
The ACLU's ongoing FOIA lawsuits have compelled the release of more than 100,000 pages of documents, including memos authorizing CIA torture.
At issue in Monday's decision were 87 photographs the ACLU believed were taken by members of the military at facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the Abu Ghraib prison that became synonymous with US abuses after humiliating photos from there first appeared in the New Yorker in early 2004.
Although the government stopped trying to fight the full release of Abu Ghraib photos after they all were independently published in 2006, the ACLU says the Pentagon continues to keep hidden 29 additional images from at least seven different locations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
More detail on the photos, from the 52-page court decision(pdf):
And while many of the Abu Ghraib photos depicted unclothed detainees forced to pose in degrading and sexually explicit ways, the detainees in the 29 photographs were clothed and generally not forced to pose. The photographs were part of seven investigative files of the Army’s Criminal Investigations Command (“Army CID”), and were provided to Army CID in connection with allegations of mistreatment of detainees. In three of the investigations, Army CID found probable cause to believe detainee abuse had occurred related to the photographs at issue here.The appeals panel went on to overturn the government's attempt to use FOIA as "an all-purpose damper on global controversy" in finding that the exemptions to the public records law the administration had claimed were not valid.
“This is yet another case in which the administration used national security as a pretext to suppress information relating to crimes that were endorsed, encouraged or tolerated by government officials,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The appeals court was correct to recognize both that the administration’s suppression of the photographs was without legal basis and that disclosure will further the purposes of the Geneva Conventions by deterring the abuse and torture of prisoners in the future.”