ACLU: Pentagon to release abuse photos

April 24, 2009 5:29:00 AM PDT
The Defense Department will release a "substantial number" of photos depicting abuse of prisoners by U.S. personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American Civil Liberties Union said late Thursday. The photos will be made available by May 28, the ACLU said, citing a letter dated Thursday from the Justice Department to a federal judge in New York. The photos' release is in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU in 2004 and will include images from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan at locations other than Abu Ghraib, the ACLU said.

"These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib," Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement. "Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse."

The Justice Department letter, signed by Acting U.S Attorney Lev L. Dassin, follows a September 2008 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit requiring disclosure of the photos and the court's subsequent refusal in March 2009 to rehear the case, the ACLU said.

Since the ACLU's FOIA request in 2003, the Bush administration had refused to disclose these images, the ACLU said. The administration claimed that disclosure of such evidence would generate outrage and would violate U.S. obligations toward detainees under the Geneva Conventions, the ACLU said.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court in September 2008 rejected the Bush administration's position, saying there was significant public interest in disclosure of the photographs, the ACLU said. The Bush administration's appeal to the full appeals court was denied on March 11 of this year.

The letter from Justice said the Pentagon was preparing to release 21 photos at issue in the appeal, plus 23 others "previously identified as responsive." The letter added that the Pentagon also was "processing for release a substantial number of other images contained in Army CID reports that have been closed during the pendency of this case."

The ACLU and the Defense Department reached an agreement for "all the responsive images" to be released by May 28, the letter said.

"The disclosure of these photographs serves as a further reminder that abuse of prisoners in U.S.-administered detention centers was systemic," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project. "Some of the abuse occurred because senior civilian and military officials created a culture of impunity in which abuse was tolerated, and some of the abuse was expressly authorized. It's imperative that senior officials who condoned or authorized abuse now be held accountable for their actions."

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