A little-noticed provision in a homeland security funding bill could end efforts to make public photos of prisoners abused in US custody abroad, the American Civil Liberties Union stated on Wednesday.
Members of the House and Senate have added a provision proposed by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to the funding bill that would make such photos exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, meaning that, if the law is upheld, the Pentagon could continue to suppress the photos, the ACLU said.
The measure would strike at the heart of the civil liberties group's efforts to make some two thousand photos of alleged abuse public. The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information request for the photos with the Department of Defense in 2003; they have been in court fighting for the photos' release ever since.
In 2005, a US District Court judge in New York ordered the photos released, but the Bush administration appealed the ruling. In 2008, an appeals court upheld the ruling and again ordered the photos to be released.
Initially, the incoming Obama administration said it would comply with the ruling. But the administration reversed itself on the issue in May, and asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. The court is expected to decide on October 9 if it will hear the case.
But all efforts to make those photos public could be scuttled if a law exempting them from Freedom of Information requests is passed and upheld.
“Congress should not give the government the authority to hide evidence of its own misconduct, and if it does grant that authority, the Secretary of Defense should not invoke it," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU's national security branch, in a statement released Wednesday. He added that "the suppression of these photos will ultimately be far more damaging to our national security than their disclosure would be."
“We’re disappointed that conference committee members have approved this troubling legislation that will allow the government to withhold evidence of human rights abuses perpetrated by government personnel," the ACLU's head of national legislation, Michael Macleod-Ball, said. "Congress should not provide this authority.”