Appeals Court Orders Defense Department to Release Detainee Abuse Photos in ACLU Lawsuit
NEW YORK - A
federal court today ordered the Department of Defense to release
photographs depicting the abuse of detainees by U.S. forces in Iraq and
Afghanistan. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected
the government's appeal of a 2006 order directing the Defense
Department to release the photos. Today's decision comes as part of an
American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking information on the abuse
of prisoners held in U.S. custody overseas.
"This is a resounding victory for
the public's right to hold the government accountable," said ACLU staff
attorney Amrit Singh, who argued before the court. "These photographs
demonstrate that the abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody abroad was
not aberrational and not confined to Abu Ghraib, but the result of
policies adopted by high-ranking officials. Their release is critical
for bringing an end to the administration's torture policies and for
deterring further prisoner abuse."
Since the ACLU's Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) request in 2003, the government has refused to
disclose these images by attempting to radically expand the exemptions
allowed under the FOIA for withholding records. The government claimed
that the public disclosure of such evidence would generate outrage and
would violate U.S. obligations towards detainees under the Geneva
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However, the appeals court today
rejected the government's attempt to use the FOIA as "an all-purpose
damper on global controversy" and recognized the "significant public
interest in the disclosure of these photographs" in light of government
misconduct. The court also recognized that releasing the photographs is
likely to prevent "further abuse of prisoners."
"This is yet another case in which
the administration used national security as a pretext to suppress
information relating to crimes that were endorsed, encouraged or
tolerated by government officials," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the
ACLU National Security Project. "The appeals court was correct to
recognize both that the administration's suppression of the photographs
was without legal basis and that disclosure will further the purposes
of the Geneva Conventions by deterring the abuse and torture of
prisoners in the future."
Today's decision is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/
To date, more than 100,000 pages of
government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's FOIA
lawsuit. They are available online at: www.aclu.org/torturefoia
Many of these documents are also
compiled and analyzed in "Administration of Torture," a book by Jaffer
and Singh. More information is available online at: www.aclu.org/
In addition to Jaffer and Singh,
attorneys on the case are Alexa Kolbi-Molinas and Judy Rabinovitz of
the national ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York
Civil Liberties Union; Lawrence S. Lustberg and Melanca D. Clark of the
New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C.; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael
Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
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