Today the Obama Justice Department petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a federal court ruling that they must turn over photos depicting the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas.
An appeals court had soundly rejected all of the government’s arguments for withholding the photos in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit , and it’s unfortunate that the government has chosen to contest that decision.
In response to the government’s petition to the Supreme Court today, Amrit Singh, ACLU staff attorney on the FOIA litigation said:
These photos would provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib. As disturbing as the photos may be, it is critical that the American people know the full truth about the abuse that occurred in their name.
In September 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered the government to turn over the photos, and the Obama administration originally indicated that it would not appeal that decision. It abruptly changed its position shortly before the agreed-upon deadline, filing a motion asking the appeals court to recall its order for the release of the photos on the grounds that it would appeal the case to the Supreme Court. The court consented and recalled its mandate on June 10. The government has since received two extensions to its deadline to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.
The ACLU is seeking the disclosure of the photos with all individual identifying information deleted, to protect the identity of those pictured. The courts have ordered them released in that form.
The appeals court was right to find that the photos should be released. As we’ve said all along, they are crucial to the historic record and to holding government officials accountable for their role in torture. It’s disappointing that the Obama administration, which has stated its commitment to transparency and accountability, is continuing to argue for such unnecessary and unfortunate secrecy.