The Pentagon has moved forcefully to block the release of new video evidence of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, arguing it would help recruit new Islamist insurgents and endanger American lives.
The request is contained in a motion filed in federal court by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers in response to a plea by several human rights groups to make public 87 photographs and four videotapes made at Abu Ghraib by Specialist Joseph Darby that thus far have been kept under wraps.
Darby triggered the Abu Ghraib scandal last year when he turned over to military investigators extensive photographic and video evidence implicating his fellow military policemen in brutal abuse of prisoners.
The pictures showed inmates piled up naked on the floor, cowering in front of snarling military dogs, chained to beds in stress positions, with women's underwear put over their heads, and forced to stand naked in front of female guards.
At least eight low-ranking US soldiers have been convicted or voluntarily pleaded guilty in the wake of the scandal that has sparked condemnation of the United States all around the world.
A Pentagon probe has cleared all top US commanders of any criminal responsibility in the matter.
But so far, only a fraction of pictures made by Specialist Darby have been released to the public.
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several other human rights groups with the US District Court in New York seeks to fill this gap by making the remaining pictures available.
But in an affidavit filed with the court on July 21 and unsealed this past week, Myers insists the release "would aid the recruitment effort and other activities of insurgent elements."
He further states that should the pictures become public, they will "endanger the lives and physical safety of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in the United States Armed Forces presently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The suit comes at a particularly sensitive time for the administration of President George W. Bush, which is trying to stem the erosion of public support for its policies in Iraq following a new spike in US casualties in that country.
As many as 61 percent of Americans expressed their disapproval of how the president is handling Iraq in the most recent Newsweek magazine survey.
Myers says he personally condemns "in the strongest terms" the misconduct and abuse depicted in the images.
But he argues the situation in Iraq is "dynamic and dangerous," with US forces and their allies having to face on average 70 attacks a day mounted by an insurgent army that now numbers about 16,000.
The top US military commander also suggests the release of new photos could have an effect similar to that caused by a since retracted Newsweek story about the desecration of the Koran at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The story about the Islamic holy book allegedly being flushed down the toilet, which was published in April, sparked riots in Afghanistan that, according to Myers, claimed at least 17 lives.
But the general's arguments was sharply rebuffed by retired colonel Michael Pheneger, a former classmate of Myers' at the US Army War College and intelligence officer with experience in the Middle East.
Pheneger writes in court papers that Myers "mistakes propaganda for motivation."
"Insurgents average 70 attacks a day regardless of provocation as part of their effort to achieve specific objectives," the intelligence expert argues.
Meanwhile, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero insists the real reason the Pentagon is fighting the release of the new evidence is because it demonstrates "the failure of American leaders who placed our young men and women in compromising situations and are now seeking to blame them for it."