Photos Depict Abuse Of Prisoners By U.S. Personnel In Iraq And Afghanistan
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NEW YORK – In a letter addressed to a federal court today, the Department of Defense announced that it will make public by May 28 a "substantial number" of photos depicting the abuse of prisoners by U.S. personnel. The photos, which are being released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2004, include images from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan at locations other than Abu Ghraib.
"These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib," said Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the ACLU. "Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse."
The letter follows a September 2008 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit requiring disclosure of the photos and the court's subsequent refusal in March 2009 to rehear the case. The Defense Department has indicated that it will not ask the Supreme Court to review the Second Circuit's ruling.
Since the ACLU's FOIA request in 2003, the Bush administration had refused to disclose these images by attempting to radically expand the exemptions allowed under the FOIA for withholding records. The administration claimed that the public disclosure of such evidence would generate outrage and would violate U.S. obligations towards detainees under the Geneva Conventions.
However, a three judge panel of the appeals court in September 2008 rejected the Bush administration's attempt to use exemptions to 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." The Bush administration subsequently requested that the full Court of Appeals rehear the case. That request was denied on March 11, 2009.
"The disclosure of these photographs serves as a further reminder that abuse of prisoners in U.S.-administered detention centers was systemic," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "Some of the abuse occurred because senior civilian and military officials created a culture of impunity in which abuse was tolerated, and some of the abuse was expressly authorized. It's imperative that senior officials who condoned or authorized abuse now be held accountable for their actions."
The Department of Defense letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/39453lgl20090423.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 Judy Rabinovitz of the national ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Lawrence S. Lustberg and Jenny Brooke Condon of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C.; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.