Friday, September 30, 2005

Judge orders release of Abu Ghraib abuse pictures


Judge orders release of Abu Ghraib abuse pictures

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Defense Department to release 74 photos and three videos depicting prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, some of which may have already been published worldwide.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered the Defense Department to release photos provided by Sgt. Joseph Darby, some of which were leaked more than a year ago and set off the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

The Defense Department had sought to suppress their release, saying publication of new images could incite more violence in Iraq.

Among Darby's pictures already published were one that outraged the world showing Pvt. Lynndie England with a naked prisoner on a leash. England was sentenced to three years in jail for her part in the scandal. It is not known if this picture or other famed images are among the 74 being contested.

The written ruling came in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed in 2003 by civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, over treatment of U.S.-held detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

The judge had ordered the release of the photos in June, but the Department of Defense appealed the decision, warning the judge in oral arguments that releasing the pictures could incite more violence among insurgents in Iraq.

But in a strongly worded ruling on Thursday, the judge noted that "the terrorists in Iraq do not need pretexts for their barbarism" and that America "does not surrender to blackmail and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument."

The judge said withholding the photos that show American soldiers forcing prisoners "to pose in a manner that compromised their humanity and dignity" would be contrary to the democratic freedoms that American troops were fighting for.

"Indeed, the freedoms we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which out troops are armed," Hellerstein said. "As President Bush said, we fight to spread freedom so the freedoms of Americans will be made more secure."

In hearing oral arguments in August, the judge hesitated to release the pictures, wondering aloud how he could ignore "the expert opinion of (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) General (Richard) Myers" and "how quickly they would be put on the 6 o'clock or 11 o'clock news?"


But in his order the judge said releasing them was in the public interest because their publication would initiate debate on the conduct of American soldiers and about the U.S. Army's command structure, poor training and lack of supervision.

The judge gave the government 20 days to appeal before releasing the pictures, which are edited so the faces of prisoners are not shown.

Lt. Col. John Skinner, a Pentagon spokesman on detainee issues said the Department of Defense, "continues to consult with the Department of Justice on this litigation, to include additional legal options."

A defense official who asked not to be named said the ruling does not necessarily mean the immediate release of the images, noting the possibility of appeal.

ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said the ruling was a victory for government accountability.