ACLU demands Obama administration release prisoner abuse photos
Jeremy Gantz
Published: Tuesday March 10, 2009

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Like most Americans, you've probably seen the infamous Iraqi prisoner abuse photographs.

The American Civil Liberties Union wants you to be able to see more, and is demanding that the Obama administration release additional photos depicting abuse of prisoners by U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite a unanimous federal appeals court panel ruling last year that ordered the Bush administration to do just that, the outgoing administration asked the full court to rehear the case. But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has yet to do so, according to a statement released Tuesday by the ACLU.

"The Obama administration's commitment to transparency is commendable," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU's National Security Project. "We want to make sure that this rhetoric becomes reality." The Obama administration has not weighed in on the case.

The ACLU has sought the release of additional prisoner abuse photos since 2003, when it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the government. The Bush administration repeatedly stonewalled the request, refusing to disclose the images "by attempting to radically expand the exemptions allowed under the FOIA for withholding records," according to the ACLU.

Faced with that rejection, the organization turned to the courts, filing a lawsuit for their release nearly five years ago. In a letter sent Tuesday to the Department of Defense, the organization reminded the government that the federal court said "there is significant public interest in the disclosure" of the photos.

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 are 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.

The Bush administration claimed that making additional photos public would "generate outrage and would violate U.S. obligations towards detainees under the Geneva Conventions," the ACLU noted in its statement.

Last week, the Justice Department released incendiary Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel memos that provided a legal basis for suspending freedom of speech and press, ordering warrantless searches and seizures and locking up U.S. citizens indefinitely in the United States without criminal charges. The administration later rejected the memos' reasoning, just weeks before President Obama took office.

Writing at the Huffington Post Monday, ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said that the release of those memos was "an important step toward restoring government transparency."

But, Singh wrote, "withholding the prisoner abuse images would seriously undermine President Obama’s recent directives on government openness."

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