NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NEW YORK · Freedom of Information · June 15, 2006
Government must turn over more detainee photos
June 15, 2006 · The American Civil Liberties Union, on a quest for images of prisoner abuse, won court-ordered access to an additional 20 photos depicting U.S.-held detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Friday’s ruling comes more than two months after the government withdrew its appeal of the release of more than 70 images depicting detainee abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, and after it announced the existence of an additional 29 photos in response to the ACLU’s request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan said 20 of the images must be made available and that another seven do not fulfill the FOIA request. He reserved judgment as to the final two images. This batch of images is not related to Abu Ghraib, said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh, although Hellerstein’s order shows that they — like the original images ordered released — are of great public interest.
“All reasons that applied in favor of the release of the ‘Darby’ images apply to these as well,” she said, referring to the term used to describe the Abu Ghraib images that military policeman Sgt. Joseph Darby turned over to the Army.
In September, Hellerstein ruled that the images sought by the ACLU must be released, noting the great public interest in determining what actions the U.S. military had taken at the prison near Baghdad and discussing the need for transparency and accountability within the government. The Defense Department appealed his ruling, but in March withdrew that appeal and agreed to abide by Hellerstein’s order.
The government also agreed to provide any additional images related to the ACLU’s request that were not already released along with the Darby images. Upon the announcement of this batch of 29 images, both the civil rights organization and the government submitted declarations to Hellerstein, which he took into account upon ordering their release, Singh said. The government is still processing the request to determine if there are any images beyond this batch of 29 that meet the ACLU’s request.
In his two-page order, Hellerstein requires the release of some images in their entirety and others with identifying facial features redacted. The Defense Department has two weeks from Friday to appeal Hellerstein’s decision, Singh said.
(ACLU v. Dep’t of Defense, Requester’s counsel: Amrit Singh, New York) — CZ