Appeals Court Orders Defense Department To Release Detainee Abuse Photos In ACLU Lawsuit

September 22, 2008

Photos Depict Abuse At Facilities In Afghanistan And Iraq

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

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 Conventions.

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/36878lgl20080922.html

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/administrationoftorture

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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