Court clears path for torture photos appeal

Hannah Bergman | Freedom of Information | Feature | June 12, 2009

A federal appeals court earlier this week cleared the way for the Obama administration to ask the Supreme Court to hear its argument that a series of photos depicting detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan should not be released.

The administration had first indicated it would not appeal the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.), which ordered the photos released. Obama has since changed his mind; the appellate court needed to take a procedural step -- rescinding its order returning the case to the lower court -- in order for the government's appeal to move forward.

The maneuvering is the latest in the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over the photos. The Reporters Committee supported the ACLU with a friend-of-the-court brief.

Now that the appellate court has recalled its order, the administration has until July 9 to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.

In the meantime, though, there is still a chance Congress will pass legislation enabling the White House to block the release of the photos on its own. Such an amendment was attached to the war supplemental appropriations bill, but was taken out after House Democrats balked over it.

The New York Times reported that Thursday's deal on the supplemental spending bill "was concluded after Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, went to the Capitol to assure Senate Democrats that President Obama would use all administrative and legal means to prevent the photos’ release."