Defense Department Files Secret Arguments in Further Attempt to Suppress Abu Ghraib Photos

July 29, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: media@aclu.org

NEW YORK -- The Defense Department has filed heavily redacted papers in a further attempt to suppress photographs and videos that depict the abuse of prisoners held at Abu Ghraib, the American Civil Liberties Union said today. The move is the government's latest effort to block the release of materials requested by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act.

"The government's recent actions make a mockery of the Freedom of Information Act," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "The Defense Department has long dragged its heels on coming clean about the systematic and widespread abuse of detainees, but denying the public the right to even hear its legal arguments for withholding information is a new low."

Last week, on the deadline of a court order requiring the Defense Department to process and redact 87 photographs and four videos taken at Abu Ghraib, government attorneys filed a last-minute memorandum of law and three affidavits arguing against the release of the materials. The government's papers cite a statutory provision that permits the withholding of records "compiled for law enforcement purposes," that "could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual."

However, the government has redacted significant portions of its public brief, including the conclusion. The government also heavily redacted portions of declarations submitted in support of the brief. One of the declarations is that of General Richard Meyers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. ACLU attorneys have been provided with less-redacted court papers pursuant to a protective order that prevents them from disclosing the papers' contents to the public.

"Not only is the government denying the public access to records of critical significance, it is also withholding its reasons for doing so," said Amrit Singh, an ACLU staff attorney. "This exemplifies the government's disregard for democratic constraints on the use of executive power."

A hearing has been scheduled in federal court in New York for August 15 to address two issues: whether the public has been improperly denied access to information as a result of the government's redacted briefs, and whether the government should be compelled to release photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib.

The photographs and videos in question were redacted by the Defense Department in response to a June 1, 2005 court order relating to a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

To date, more than 60,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia.

The FOIA lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Singh, Jameel Jaffer, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur N. Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The redacted public version of the government's memorandum of law is available online at: /cpredirect/19879.

The redacted public version of General Richard Meyers' affidavit is available online at: /cpredirect/19969.

The redacted public version of Ronald Schlicher's affidavit is available online at: /cpredirect/20247.

The redacted public version of Phillip McGuire's affidavit is available online at: /cpredirect/19966.

Statistics image