FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Government Gives Up Legal Fight on Contested Images, But Resists Further Disclosures
NEW YORK -- The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union today released the first official U.S. government authentication of images of detainee abuse by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The Department of Defense was forced to turn over the information as well as one additional image as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU in 2004.
Significantly, in agreeing to the release and authentication of the notorious images, the Department of Defense did not contest a district court ruling that the release of these images is crucial to understanding the command failures that led to the abuse. The ACLU said that this ruling would therefore apply to other images of detainee abuse withheld on the same legal grounds as the Abu Ghraib images.
“This is a moral victory in every sense, but the battle is not over until the top-ranking officials who are truly responsible for these abuses are held accountable," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "These images convey on a visceral level the impact of the government's policies. Now that the government has agreed not to contest the release of further images, it should focus on the real issue, which is how and why these abuses were allowed to happen in the first place.”
The government also informed the court today that it is withholding an additional 29 photos and two videos relating to detainee treatment and that it will file declarations in support of its withholding of these images by April 25, 2006. Details regarding the specific content of these additional images are unknown.
The authentication released today identifies 73 photographs and three videotapes depicting detainee abuse, provided by Sergeant Joseph Darby to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. Seventy-three of the images are available from the online magazine Salon.com. One additional image from the Darby trove, with individually identifying details deleted, was also released. It depicts two men in orange jumpsuits standing side by side.
“Instead of continuing to shield wrongdoers from public scrutiny, the government now must also disclose other detainee abuse images and policy documents in its possession," said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU. "The public has an undeniable right to examine these documents especially because they shed light on who is ultimately responsible for the widespread abuse of detainees.”
Attorneys for the government had argued that turning over visual evidence of abuse would violate the United States' obligations under the Geneva Conventions, but the ACLU, supported by experts in international law, said that obscuring the faces and identifiable features of the detainees would address any potential privacy concerns.
In ordering the release of the images, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein held that "Publication of the photographs is central to the purposes of FOIA because they initiate debate, not only about the improper and unlawful conduct of American soldiers, 'rogue' soldiers, as they have been characterized, but also about other important questions as well -- for example, the command structure whose failures in exercising supervision may make them culpable along with the soldiers who were court-martialed for perpetrating the wrongs.
The images released by the Department of Defense come in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU to force government compliance with a Freedom of Information Act request 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.
Additional documents continue to be turned over by the government in adherence to a court order entered by Judge Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Portions of the documents are redacted and the ACLU continues to aggressively push for the release of much of the withheld information, including documents from the Central Intelligence Agency, which to date has steadfastly refused to disclose even the existence of certain documents.
To date, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's FOIA lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia. The documents reveal that harsh interrogation techniques were used indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, and ultimately led to cases of abuse and torture.
In March 2005, the ACLU and Human Rights First filed a lawsuit charging Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top officials with direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees. Many of the claims in the Rumsfeld lawsuit were based on information disclosed through the ACLU's FOIA litigation. Further information about the case, Ali v. Rumsfeld, is online at www.aclu.org/rumsfeld
The government's letter authenticating the Abu Ghraib images posted on Salon.com is at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/24980lgl20060411.html
The text of the proposed order relating to the 29 photos and two videos to be signed by Judge Hellerstein is available at: