Despite efforts by all three branches of the government to keep photos of abuse at US military detention centers secret, the American Civil Liberties Union vows that it won't stand still in the face of such a "dangerous precedent."

The Supreme Court on Monday set aside an appeals court's ruling that the Obama administration must release the photos, citing a new law passed in October that gives the secretary of defense the right to exempt photos from freedom-of-information laws.

That law was passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in October, as part of a homeland security spending bill. This month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates used his new powers to order the suppression of the photos. The case now goes back to the lower court, which will reflect on its ruling in light of the new law.

"We continue to believe that the photos should be released, and we intend to press that case in the lower court," said Steven Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU. "No democracy has ever been made stronger by suppressing evidence of its own misconduct."

As the ACLU noted in a statement released Monday, President Obama's administration initially announced it would comply with a 2008 court ruling ordering the photos to be released. But the administration then changed its mind, and argued that releasing the photos could endanger the lives of Americans abroad because of the anger they would fuel.

The ACLU described that rationale as "dangerous."

Releasing the photos would "both discourage abuse in the future and underscore the need for a comprehensive investigation of past abuses," said Jameel Jaffer, head of the ACLU's National Security Project. "And we continue to believe that permitting the government to suppress information about government misconduct on the grounds that someone, somewhere in the world, might react badly – or even violently – sets a very dangerous precedent."

At issue in the case are several dozen photos that reportedly show acts of extreme abuse carried out against prisoners at US military facilities. Raw Story has previously reported that the photos allegedly show sexual assaults on prisoners, both male and female, using truncheons, wire and phosphorescent tubes; the rape of a female prisoner by a male guard; the rape of a male prisoner by a male translator; and the rape of a 15-year-old boy.

Even former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the recorded abuse “cruel,” “inhuman” and “blatantly sadistic.”

The ACLU has been fighting in the courts to have the photos released since 2005, when a district court ruled that the government did not show cause for why the photos should be kept secret. Since then, successive administrations have fought that ruling in appeals courts, for the most part losing their appeals until Monday's Supreme Court ruling.