Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week blocked the further release of any pictures depicting abuse of foreign detainees in American custody, the Associated Press reported.
Gates’ order specifically mentioned 21 photographs requested by the American Civil Liberties Union, which were the subject of a protracted public records lawsuit. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the order extends beyond those to include all photographs of the treatment of individuals captured or detained in military operations outside the United States between Sept. 11, 2001 and Jan. 22, 2009. Gates’ authority stems from a new provision in the appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security signed by the president late last month.
Before the Homeland Security budget bill was passed, courts had ordered release of the photographs of abused prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq that were requested by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act. After initially supporting the release of the photographs, President Obama reversed course in May and his administration then appealed to the Supreme Court. In October, the government asked the court to postpone its decision to hear arguments in the case until Obama had the chance to sign the bill into law.
The government argues that the Oct. 29 enactment of the legislation made the case over the torture photos moot. But the ACLU said it will continue fighting to obtain copies of the photographs and that Gates’ order, which said such photos would jeopardize the safety of American soldiers, was overly broad.
"We think the photos are an important part of the historical record. They are critical to the ongoing national conversation about accountability for torture," said Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s national security project, in a statement. "It sets a bad precedent for the government to be suppressing information that relates to government misconduct."