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ACLU Urges Secretary Gates Not To Block Release Of Torture Photos
Senate Approves Bill Giving Defense Department Authority To Exempt Photos From Freedom Of Information Act
WASHINGTON - October 20 - After
the Senate today passed a Homeland Security appropriations bill with an
amendment that would grant the Department of Defense (DOD) the
authority to continue suppressing photos of prisoner abuse, the
American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Secretary Robert Gates
urging him not to exercise the authority to suppress the photos. The
amendment, which would allow the DOD to exempt photos from the Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA), is aimed at photos ordered released by a
federal appeals court as part of an ACLU FOIA lawsuit for photos and
other records related to detainee abuse in U.S. custody overseas,
although it would apply to other photos in government custody as well.
The bill will now head to President Obama's desk for signature.
The ACLU letter states that the photos would show the pervasiveness of detainee abuse and would shed light on the connection between that abuse and the decisions of high-level Bush administration officials. According to the letter, the photos "are of critical relevance to an ongoing national debate about accountability."
The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project:
"We are deeply disappointed that Congress has voted to give the Defense Department the authority to hide evidence of its own misconduct. If President Obama signs this bill into law, the Secretary of Defense should not invoke his authority to suppress the photos. Instead, Secretary Gates should be guided by the importance of transparency to the democratic process, the extraordinary importance of these photos to the ongoing debate about the treatment of prisoners and the likelihood that the suppression of these photos would ultimately be far more damaging to national security than their disclosure. The last administration's decision to endorse torture undermined the United States' moral authority and compromised its security. The failure of the current administration to fully confront the abuses of the last administration will only compound these harms."
Another provision contained in the appropriations bill allows the transfer of detainees from Guantánamo Bay to the U.S. for prosecution, though not for any other reason.
The following can be attributed to Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel:
"Congress should not be passing legislation making it more difficult for President Obama to keep his commitment to closing Guantánamo, but it is a step in the right direction that the legislation allows for transfer of detainees for prosecution in the U.S. Continuing to hold detainees without charge or trial indefinitely flies in the face of our ingrained values of justice and due process. Our federal courts are perfectly capable of providing justice, security and the protection of fundamental rights, and we should use them to finally achieve real justice in cases where evidence of terrorism crimes exists."
The full text of the ACLU's letter to Secretary of Defense Gates is below and available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/
More information about the ACLU's FOIA litigation is at: www.aclu.org/accountability