A US judge has ordered the Bush administration to release more than 100 new photographs and videos of abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib, creating a fresh public relations nightmare for government officials as they seek to rebut accusations that the US is sponsoring torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
The ruling comes as Tony Blair prepares to fly to Washington for meetings this week with George Bush. Although the Prime Minister's trip is part of a series of visits to fellow G8 leaders before next month's summit at Gleneagles in Scotland, Downing Street has said that the two men will also discuss Iraq, where violence has recently surged.
A suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol in Baghdad yesterday, seriously wounding two policemen. During the day, hundreds of Iraqi and US troops braved the heat to search fields and farms in an area known as the Triangle of Death, for hideouts used by predominantly Sunni Arab militants to mount suicide attacks against nearby Baghdad.
They rounded up at least 108 Iraqis suspected of involvement in the insurgency.
Iraqi forces were claiming one major success - the arrest in a raid in Mosul of a senior militant leader, Mullah Mahdi. He is said to be linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qa'ida follower accused by Washington of masterminding much of the violence against occupation troops. An Iraqi official said the arrest was "very significant".
But fresh evidence of abuse at Abu Ghraib is likely to complicate Iraq's already precarious security situation. Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the New York federal court granted a petition by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to release the materials after viewing eight sample photos last week. It is not known exactly what the 144 photographs and videos depict, but they are from the same sources as the graphic images of prisoners being piled up on top of each other, threatened by attack dogs and forced into sexually compromising positions that triggered scandal and outrage just over a year ago.
"These images may be ugly and shocking, but they depict how the torture was more than the actions of a few rogue soldiers," said ACLU director Anthony Romero. "The American public deserves to know what is being done in our name. Perhaps after these and other photos are forced into the light of day, the government will at long last appoint an outside special counsel to investigate the torture and abuse of detainees."
Government lawyers argued that releasing the photographs would reveal the prisoners' identities, a violation of their rights under the Geneva Conventions. But the ACLU said that objection could be easily overcome by blocking out the prisoners' faces. The judge agreed, and gave the White House until the end of the month to hand over the material.
More pointedly, the ACLU also said the government's reasoning was absurd because the violation of the Geneva Conventions began with the abuse, not with attempts to uncover it.
But a Pentagon spokesman indicated yesterday that the administration would not give up the materials without a further fight.
President Bush has come under increasing scrutiny over his repeated claims to be interested in spreading freedom around the world, most recently in the damning Amnesty International report on conditions at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
The White House has, in turn, responded aggressively to its critics, savaging Amnesty for its use of the word "gulag" to describe Guantanamo and impugning the journalistic ethics of Newsweek magazine over the "Koran-in-the-toilet" story, which was largely, if not wholly, untrue.
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.