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Obama Administration Reverses Promise to Release Torture Photos

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May 13, 2009

Today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced that the Obama administration will not release the photos depicting the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, reversing an earlier Defense Department statement to a federal judge that it would release a “substantial number” of photos in response to a court ruling in a long-standing ACLU lawsuit.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement this afternoon:

The Obama administration’s adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president’s stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government. This decision is particularly disturbing given the Justice Department’s failure to initiate a criminal investigation of torture crimes under the Bush administration.

It is true that these photos would be disturbing; the day we are no longer disturbed by such repugnant acts would be a sad one. In America, every fact and document gets known — whether now or years from now. And when these photos do see the light of day, the outrage will focus not only on the commission of torture by the Bush administration but on the Obama administration’s complicity in covering them up. Any outrage related to these photos should be due not to their release but to the very crimes depicted in them. Only by looking squarely in the mirror, acknowledging the crimes of the past and achieving accountability can we move forward and ensure that these atrocities are not repeated.

If the Obama administration continues down this path, it will betray not only its promises to the American people, but its commitment to this nation’s most fundamental principles. President Obama has said we should turn the page, but we cannot do that until we fully learn how this nation veered down the path of criminality and immorality, who allowed that to happen and whose lives were mutilated as a result. Releasing these photos — as painful as it might be — is a critical step toward that accounting. The American people deserve no less.

ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh blogged about the importance of the release of these photos in March on Huffington Post:

The public value of these images is considerable. As visual records, they convey what words could not possibly communicate. As evidence of abuse at locations other than Abu Ghraib, they undermine the Bush administration’s claim that abuse was aberrational. The disclosure of these images is critical to help the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as the extent to which such abuse was caused by policy decisions. Disclosure is also crucial for assessing official responsibility for the abuse.

You can learn more about the lawsuit at

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