The United States Supreme Court granted a request Tuesday to delay its decision on whether the Obama administration may continue to block the release of images depicting the torture of terror war detainees in U.S. custody.
The decision to delay comes as Congress and the Obama administration appear to have agreed on the passage of a new law that would delegate all authority over the photos to the Secretary of Defense, effectively removing the courts from the process.
"The Obama administration believes giving the imminent grant of authority over the release of such pictures to the defense secretary would short-circuit a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act," the Associated Press reported on Saturday.
"The ACLU said the administration’s about-face 'makes a mockery' of Obama’s campaign promise of greater transparency and accountability, and damages efforts to hold accountable those responsible for abusing prisoners," CNN added on Tuesday.
The photos relate to abuse alleged to have taken place between 2001 and 2005 in Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Some of the photos were said to depict rape and sexual abuse, though the Pentagon has denied this.
Some of the images depict U.S. soldiers pointing guns at the heads of prisoners. Another, according to Solicitor General Elena Kagan, shows a soldier "holding 'a broom as if sticking its end into the rectum of a restrained detainee,' Kagan said, quoting from an investigation report prepared by the Pentagon," AP reported.
Justices were expected to discuss the case during a closed-door session on Friday, but a letter from the solicitor general may have played a role in their decision to delay that hearing.
"Kagan's letter advised the court about Congress' 'recent and significant legislative developments,'" Fox News noted. "Her request was unusual in that she asked the justices to delay consideration of the government's own case. But the letter shows the Obama administration's top priority is keeping the pictures sealed - and that it believes that can be better accomplished by legislative means than court action."
The Pentagon said US military commanders had sternly warned the president that the photos could be used as a recruiting tool by extremists and jeopardize the safety of US troops. Federal courts have ruled against the government in a series of decisions on the matter after the ACLU sued to force disclosure.
"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," ACLU National Security Project Director Jameel Jaffer said in a press release. "If this shameful provision passes, Secretary Gates should take into account the importance of transparency to the democratic process, the extraordinary importance of these photos to the ongoing debate about the treatment of prisoners, and the likelihood that the suppression of these photos will ultimately be far more damaging to our national security than their disclosure would be."
"The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefits to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals," President Obama said in May after reversing his promise to have the images released.