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Congress again seeks to ban release of torture photos

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  1. Freedom of Information
Barring the release of photos depicting abuse of detainees in U.S. custody was again the subject of a legislative amendment…

Barring the release of photos depicting abuse of detainees in U.S. custody was again the subject of a legislative amendment in the U.S. Senate this week when language that supports President Obama’s intent to keep the photos from public disclosure was attached to the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations voted yesterday to amend the appropriations bill to include language, which was proposed by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.,  that “[c]odifies the President’s decision to allow the Secretary of Defense to bar the release of detainee photos,” according a  conference summary issued by the committee.

Congress has been wrestling with a photo ban amendment since last summer when Graham and Lieberman first added the language preventing disclosure to an appropriations bill that landed in the Senate in July. House Democrats previously refused to agree to a similar amendment proposed by Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Tex., and Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and removed the provision from the final bill. The congressmen have again attached a similar amendment to the House version of the Bill, according to a Lieberman release.

The legislation is meant to protect images that are the subject of a case the government recently asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide. In 2008, the Second Circuit ordered the photos released in ACLU v. Department of Defense. The appeals court decision affirmed a 2005 ruling that since the exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act did not apply, the images should be released. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear arguments in the case later this week.

While Lieberman argued that the amendment will “give the Secretary of Defense the ability to protect American troops and civilians” from extremist groups and anti-American sentiments, freedom of information advocates continue to disagree.

“Congress should not give the government the authority to hide evidence of its own misconduct…,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project in a release. “[t]he suppression of these photos will ultimately be far more damaging to the national security than their disclosure would be."