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Proposed Appropriations Bill Would Allow Defense Department to Suppress Torture Photos

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October 7, 2009

We’ve just learned that the House and Senate conferees approved language today for the homeland security appropriations bill that, if passed, would grant the Department of Defense (DoD) the authority to continue suppressing photos depicting the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas.

Since 2003, the ACLU has been seeking photos and records related to the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas through ongoing litigation under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The amendment originally introduced by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) would allow DoD to exempt the photos from FOIA.

A federal appeals court ordered the photos released (PDF) in September 2008, affirming a 2005 district court ruling (PDF). After initially indicating that it would not appeal the appellate court’s decision and would release the photos, the Obama administration abruptly reversed its position in May and asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal (PDF). The Supreme Court is expected to conference on whether it will hear the Obama administration appeal of the Second Circuit ruling later this week, on October 9.

Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project stated in a press release:

“Congress should not give the government the authority to hide evidence of its own misconduct, and if it does grant that authority, the Secretary of Defense should not invoke it. If this shameful provision passes, Secretary Gates should take into account 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 the 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.”

We can’t have accountability for torture without sunlight on the facts – including photographs – about the abuse of prisoners that took place under the Bush administration. The American public has a right to know what was done in its name.

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