Federal Court Orders Government to Turn Over Videos and Photos Showing Detainee Abuse

June 2, 2005 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — A federal judge has ordered the Defense Department to turn over dozens of photographs and four movies depicting detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“These images may be ugly and shocking, but they depict how the torture was more than the actions of a few rogue soldiers,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “The American public deserves to know what is being done in our name. Perhaps after these and other photos are forced into the light of day, the government will at long last appoint an outside special counsel to investigate the torture and abuse of detainees.”

The court order came in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights to obtain documents and materials pertaining to the treatment of detainees held by American forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay.

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 said that obscuring the faces and identifiable features of the detainees would erase any potential privacy concerns. The court agreed.

“It is indeed ironic that the government invoked the Geneva Conventions as a basis for withholding these photographs,” said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney at the ACLU. “Had the government genuinely adhered to its obligations under these Conventions, it could have prevented the widespread abuse of detainees held in its custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay.”

The court order filed late yesterday requires the government by June 30 to reprocess and redact 144 detainee abuse photographs provided by Sergeant Joseph Darby to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. The order also requires the government to provide the court with an estimate of the length of time it will take to reprocess and redact four movies included as part of the Darby collection by June 10. The decision comes after the court privately viewed eight of the images from the Darby collection to determine whether the photographs should be released under the FOIA. The ACLU expects redacted versions of the photographs to be released within the next six weeks.

To date, more than 35,000 pages of documents have been released in response to the FOIA lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia.

The FOIA lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Amrit Singh, Jameel Jaffer and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur N. Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The court order is available at: /node/35442

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