Stephen C. Webster
Sunday, Oct 11th, 2009
In the continuing legal battle over 21 photographs showing terror war prisoner abuse, the U.S. government has not seen much success arguing for nondisclosure in federal court.
So, the Obama administration — which once promised to make public this shameful chapter of the Bush administration — has hatched a new strategy to keep the scenes of torture from being released.
“The Obama administration believes giving the imminent grant of authority over the release of such pictures to the defense secretary would short-circuit a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act,” reported the Associated Press on Saturday.
It was with this new strategy in mind that the administration asked Supreme Court justices to stay their decision on the photos’ release, allowing Congress time to vote on dictating the authority solely to the secretary of defense.
The photos relate to abuse alleged to have taken place between 2001 and 2005 in Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Some of the photos were said to depict rape and sexual abuse, though the Pentagon has denied this.
The measure is part of a Homeland Security appropriations bill that may be voted on in the coming week. The Supreme Court could rule on the photos as early as Tuesday, AP added.
“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,” ACLU National Security Project Director Jameel Jaffer said in a press release. “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 our national security than their disclosure would be.”
US military commanders have sternly warned that the photos could be used as a recruiting tool by extremists and jeopardize the safety of US troops.
“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefits to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” President Obama said in May after reversing his promise to have the images released.
The president additionally said the photos were not particularly sensational when compared to photos of prisoner abuse that sparked the Abu Ghraib scandal.
“We’re disappointed that conference committee members have approved this troubling legislation that will allow the government to withhold evidence of human rights abuses perpetrated by government personnel,” ACLU Washington Legislative Office Director Michael Macleon-Ball said in a media advisory. “Congress should not provide this authority.”
“Lower courts have ruled that a provision of FOIA allows documents to be withheld from the public for security reasons only in instances where there are specific threats against individuals,” AP added.