House Approves Bill That Would Allow Suppression Of Torture Photos

October 15, 2009

Lieberman Amendment Would Give Defense Department Authority To Exempt Photos From Freedom Of Information Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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WASHINGTON – The House passed a homeland security appropriations bill today with an amendment that would grant the Department of Defense (DOD) the authority to continue suppressing photos depicting the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas. The amendment, added by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), would allow DOD to exempt the photos from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The photos were ordered released by a federal appeals court as part of an American Civil Liberties Union FOIA lawsuit.

The ACLU has been seeking the release of the photos and other records related to detainee abuse through FOIA litigation initiated in 2004 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. That court ordered the release of the photos in a June 2005 ruling that was affirmed by the Second Circuit in September 2008. After initially indicating that it would not appeal the Second Circuit decision and would release the photos, the Obama administration abruptly reversed its position in May and asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal. The Supreme Court is expected to conference on whether it will hear the Obama administration appeal of the Second Circuit ruling on October 30.

The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project:

"We are deeply disappointed that the House voted to give the Defense Department the authority to hide evidence of its own misconduct, and we hope the Senate will not follow suit. If this bill does become law, the Secretary of Defense should not invoke it. Instead, 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 will ultimately be far more damaging to national security than their disclosure would be. The last administration's decision to endorse torture undermined the United States' moral authority and compromised its security. The failure of the current administration to fully confront the abuses of the last administration will only compound these harms." 

The following can be attributed to Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

"It is disturbing that the House would pass legislation that so blatantly undermines the Freedom of Information Act. Authorizing the suppression of evidence of human rights abuses perpetrated by government personnel directly contradicts Congress' oversight obligations. We urge the Senate to stop this provision from being enacted, and urge Defense Secretary Robert Gates not to use this provision if enacted."

More information about the ACLU's FOIA litigation is available online at: www.aclu.org/accountability

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