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Federal judge suggests he will approve release of 2,000 photos showing Abu Ghraib abuses

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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge signaled on Wednesday he may order the U.S. government to release as many as 2,000 photographs depicting the alleged harsh treatment of detainees in U.S. custody at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other sites.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York ruled the U.S. Department of Defense had failed to show why releasing the photographs would endanger the lives of American soldiers and workers abroad.

He also said former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apparently had not considered each individual photograph before determining in late 2012 that all of them should remain secret.

Hellerstein said he would let the government submit additional evidence justifying its finding before ordering the photographs released. He scheduled a hearing for Sept. 8 on the issue.

“During the course of this litigation, I have reviewed some of these photographs and I know that many of these photographs are relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration,” he wrote.

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The Defense Department did not immediately comment on the ruling.

The photographs would be released in redacted form to conceal the identities of any individuals. Former Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said in 2009 that there were nearly 2,100 photographs, Hellerstein said.

The dispute, prompted by a 2004 lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, concerns documents, photographs and videos related to the treatment and death of prisoners held in U.S. custody abroad following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A handful of images depicting abuse at Abu Ghraib would emerge in 2004, prompting a public debate over whether the United States had engaged in torture through enhanced interrogation techniques.

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In 2005, Hellerstein ruled that the government had to release photographs and videos documenting prisoner treatment at Abu Ghraib, a decision that was upheld on appeal.

But before the images became public, then-Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki urged the U.S. government in 2009 to withhold the photographs to avoid creating further unrest in his country.

In response, Congress passed a law that blocked their release if the defense secretary certified it might endanger American lives.

Panetta’s predecessor, Robert Gates, issued such a finding in 2009 and Hellerstein accepted it in 2011.

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In 2012, when Gates’ three-year certification was about to expire as per the statute, Panetta issued a new certification, but Hellerstein said on Wednesday that circumstances had changed.

“Three years is a long time in war, the news cycle, and the international debate over how to respond to terrorism,” he wrote.

Lawyers for the government argued Hellerstein is not entitled to review Panetta’s decision, a position the judge rejected.

Marcellene Hearn, an ACLU attorney, said in a statement that the photographs were disturbing, but should be made public.

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“We have a right to know what resulted from senior officials’ decision to authorize and tolerate the abuse and torture of prisoners,” she added.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Andre Grenon)

[Image: An Iraqi detainee gestures toward U.S. soldiers through bars of his cell at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad on May 17, 2004. By Damir Sagolj for Reuters]

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Trump campaign manager counting on Florida ‘Hispanic outreach’ as president trails in state poll

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In a deep dive into why Donald Trump is so focused on Florida as he begins his re-election campaign, Politico reports that polls show the president is behind in the must-win state and that his campaign manager believes he can salvage the state with multiple Hispanic outreach initiatives.

Noting that the president is kicking off his bid to hang onto the Oval Office in Orlando on Tuesday night, the report states that those close to Trump claim he has an obsession with the state.

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The Supreme Court’s Virginia uranium ruling hints at the limits of federal power

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Virginia has the authority to ban uranium mining under state law, even as the federal government regulates the processing of nuclear fuel under the Atomic Energy Act, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Neil Gorsuch, joined by the court’s longest-serving and newest conservatives – Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh – rejected the idea that Congress’ plan for nuclear enrichment could override Virginia’s decision to prohibit uranium mining altogether. On that point, these three conservatives were in sync with three of the court’s liberals, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. This remarkably diverse coalition agreed that the “Commonwealth’s mining ban is not preempted” by federal authority. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a dissent.

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Cops defend tackling and handcuffing 12-year-old boy for roughhousing with his cousin

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Police officers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, have faced an onslaught of criticism after they handcuffed and arrested a 12-year-old black boy, the Associated Press reports.

Officers claimed the boy was being violent, trying to attack a man with a wooden pole. The boy's mother disputes that account. She claims her son was just playing with his cousin.

Carreion Baker told a local news outlet that he wasn't aware that officers were after him, which is why he didn't respond to their commands to stop.

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