NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · SECOND CIRCUIT · Freedom of Information · March 29, 2006
Government withdraws appeal over Abu Ghraib photos
March 29, 2006 · The U.S. Department of Defense on Tuesday withdrew its appeal disputing release of controversial images showing U.S. soldiers torturing detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and must now release the 74 photos and three videos at issue.
After requesting the images in 2004 under the Freedom of Information Act and receiving no response, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government for their release. The U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered the government to make them available last September. The government appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan (2nd Cir.), but withdrew its appeal Tuesday and will now be bound to U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein’s order.
“The government’s attempts to shield evidence of its own misconduct from public scrutiny ultimately proved to be futile,” Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, said in a statement. “These images speak volumes about the responsibility borne by high-ranking officials for the widespread abuse of detainees held in United States custody abroad.”
Once the parties’ agreement is approved by the appeals court, the government will have seven days to identify and authenticate the images, some of which reportedly have been published on Salon.com, and must release redacted versions of any additional images not made available on Salon’s Web site.
The ACLU and other civil rights groups first sought the images — termed the “Darby photos” after Sgt. Joseph Darby, the military policeman who turned them over to the Army — shortly after some were published in 2004 in conjunction with an October 2003 lawsuit in which the organization sought information on prisoner abuse. When the government failed to respond to the ACLU’s FOIA request, the group sued to compel release of the images. The government cited three FOIA exemptions in its argument that it could withhold the images for privacy and law enforcement reasons.
In ordering release of the images, Hellerstein called them the “best evidence” of what occurred at the U.S.-run prison near Baghdad and discussed their importance in ensuring government accountability and transparency. He agreed with the ACLU that to “inform and educate the public, and to spark debate about the causes and forces that led to the breakdown of command discipline at Abu Ghraib” are the “very purposes that FOIA is intended to advance.”
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the ACLU both at the district court level last year and in the appeals court earlier this month. The ACLU plans to seek attorney fees and court costs from the government for its nearly two-year battle over release of these images.
(ACLU v. Dep’t of Defense, Requester’s counsel: Amrit Singh, ACLU, New York) — CZ