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House approves bill banning release of detainee abuse photos

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  1. Freedom of Information
In a letter today, the Solicitor General Elena Kagan informed the Supreme Court that the House of Representatives voted yesterday…

In a letter today, the Solicitor General Elena Kagan informed the Supreme Court that the House of Representatives voted yesterday to agree to the conference report on the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, which exempts the release of abuse photos of detainees in U.S. custody. The bill passed by a vote of 307 to 114.

“It’s hard for me to express how disappointed I am with that decision. I am sorry because I believe that we had turned a page from the cloud of suspicion and secrecy that marked the previous Administration,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) this morning on the House floor with respect to the conference report. 

Last week, Kagan asked the Supreme Court to postpone its decision to hear arguments in the case over whether the photos should be released to the public because if the bill is signed into law, the government may have the authority to exempt the photos from release and the appeal would be unnecessary. The original amendment was introduced by Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The Senate is not in session today, but will vote on the conference report next week.

The Obama administration decided to go forward with an appeal to the Supreme Court in May,  marking a turnabout from earlier statements that supported the release of the photos. Administration officials agreed with the Bush administration that disclosing the photos might endanger troops overseas and encourage violence and anti-American sentiment.

Freedom of information advocates disagree. “It’s unfortunate given that this Administration promised that openness and transparency would be the norm,” said Slaughter. “We should never do anything to circumvent FOIA and I believe that our country would gain more by coming to terms with the past than we would by covering it up. I hope that the President will follow judicial rulings and consider voluntarily releasing these photos so we can put this chapter in history behind us.”

Last week, the Supreme Court postponed its decision whether to hear arguments in the case until Oct. 19, despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union, which seeks release of the photos.

"We are deeply disappointed that the House voted to give the Defense Department the authority to hide evidence of its own misconduct, and we hope the Senate will not follow suit," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "The last administration’s decision to endorse torture undermined the United States’ moral authority and compromised its security. The failure of the current administration to fully confront the abuses of the last administration will only compound these harms."

The dispute over whether the photos should be disclosed began in 2003 when the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defense. A district court in Manhattan ordered the DOD to release the photos in 2005 and a Second Circuit court agreed when the decision was appealed in 2008.