The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Robyn Shepherd, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666;      

President Signs Law Giving Defense Department Authority to Exempt Photos From Freedom of Information Act

ACLU Renews Call for Secretary Gates Not to Block Release of Torture Photos


Obama today signed into law a Homeland Security appropriations bill
that grants the Department of Defense (DOD) the authority to continue
suppressing photos of prisoner abuse. 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 American Civil Liberties Union 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. Earlier this
month, the ACLU sent a letter to Secretary Robert Gates urging him not
to exercise the authority to suppress the photos in their case, stating
that the photos "are of critical relevance to an ongoing national
debate about accountability."

"We are disappointed that the
president has signed a law giving the Defense Department the authority
to hide evidence of its own misconduct, and we hope the defense
secretary will not take advantage of that authority by suppressing
photos related to the abuse of prisoners," said Jameel Jaffer, Director
of the ACLU National Security Project. "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. A failure to fully confront the abuses of the last
administration will only compound these harms."

Another provision contained in the new law allows the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. for prosecution.

"This law allows the administration
to transfer prisoners to the U.S. for criminal trials in the federal
courts, and the administration should now do exactly that," said
Jaffer. "The military commissions at Guantanamo are not just unlawful
but unnecessary. The federal courts are fully capable of prosecuting
terrorism suspects while protecting both national security interests
and fundamental due process. It's time to shut down Guantanamo,
transfer the military commissions trials to federal courts that uphold
the rule of law, and transfer prisoners whom the administration does
not intend to charge to countries where they won't be in danger of
being tortured. Indefinite detention without charge or trial undermines
the most basic values of justice and fairness."

The full text of the ACLU's letter to Secretary of Defense Gates is below and available online at:

More information about the ACLU's FOIA litigation is at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666