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Appeals Court Refuses to Revisit Decision Ordering Defense Department to Release Prisoner Abuse Photos

Photos Depict Abuse by US Personnel at Facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq

NEW YORK - A federal court rejected a Bush administration request to reconsider a
decision that 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 request to have the full appeals court rehear a
decision from last September ordering the release of the photos as part
of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking information on the
abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody overseas.

The Obama administration, which has
not taken a position on the litigation, has 90 days to appeal to the
Supreme Court if it chooses to challenge the September order.

"This decision is a stinging
rejection of the Bush administration's attempt to keep the public in
the dark about the widespread abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody
abroad," said ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh, who argued the case
before the court. "These photographs demonstrate that prison abuse was
not aberrational and not confined to Abu Ghraib. Release of the
photographs would send a powerful message that the new administration
intends to make a clean break from the unaccountability of the Bush


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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

However, the appeals court in
September 2008 rejected the government's attempt to use exemptions to
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 instance in
which the Bush 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 Obama administration should
release these photographs now rather than participate in a cover-up of
the last administration's crimes." 
A copy of a recent ACLU letter to the Department of Defense seeking the release of the photographs is available at:

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:
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:

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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