24 April 2009

Pentagon Agrees to Release Detainee Photos.


Published: April 24, 2009.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has agreed to release dozens of previously undisclosed photographs depicting the abuse by American military personnel of captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was disclosed on Friday.

The pictures, showing incidents at a half-dozen prisons in addition to the notorious Abu Ghraib installation in Iraq, will be made available by May 28, the Defense Department and the American Civil Liberties Union said.

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, a staff attorney with the A.C.L.U., which sued for release of the pictures under the Freedom of Information Act.

There were early reports that the new pictures show detainees being intimidated by American soldiers, sometimes at gunpoint, but Ms. Singh said it is not yet clear what kinds of scenes were captured, and by whose cameras.

The Abu Ghraib photographs, showing prisoners naked or in degrading positions, sometimes with Americans posing smugly nearby, caused an uproar in the Arab world and concerns within the military that the actions of a relatively few service members were detracting from the sacrifice and valor of thousands of fighting men and women.

Disclosure of the latest pictures “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,” said Ms. Singh, who argued the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan.

The exact number of new pictures was uncertain. In a letter to Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of United States District Court in Manhattan, Lev L. Dassin, the acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the Pentagon had agreed to release 44 photographs involved in the case, plus “a substantial number of other images” gathered by Army investigators.

The Pentagon’s decision to release the pictures came after the A.C.L.U. prevailed at the Federal District Court level and before a panel of the Second Circuit. The full Second Circuit had declined to reconsider the panel’s decisions, perhaps persuading Defense Department officials that they had little chance of persuading the Supreme Court to review the case.

The Pentagon had fought the release of the photographs on the grounds that the release could endanger American military personnel overseas and that the privacy of detainees would be violated. But the Second Circuit, upholding Judge Hellerstein, said the public interest involved in release of the pictures outweighed a vague, speculative fear of danger to the American military or violation of the detainees’ privacy.

Terry Mitchell, chief of the audio-visual unit in the Defense Department’s public affairs office, said on Friday that planning for making the pictures public was just getting under way, so he had no information on the format and timing of the release.

When photographs of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib were made public in 2004, showing detainees being subjected to humiliation and intimidation, they caused widespread revulsion. Several military people were prosecuted and punished, but most of them were relatively low-ranking.

Ms. Singh of the A.C.L.U. said the release of more pictures will make clearer than ever the need for an independent investigation into abuse of prisoners “so the public can see for itself the offenses committed in its name,” and punishment of those responsible, including military officers and civilian officials.


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