The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today asked a federal court to affirm its commitment to the release of images depicting detainee abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison despite the government’s persistence in avoiding the court-ordered release.
Last week, the government asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for what is essentially a “time-out” in the court’s order to release the images while it pursues other avenues to keep the images from being released to the American Civil Liberties Union and the public. President Obama recently declared that the images’ release would endanger troops, despite previously supporting their release and having ordered a deadline of May 28 for that disclosure. Now the government is asking the court to give it additional time to pursue legislation in Congress that would protect the images’ release as well as to ask the Supreme Court to hear an appeal — a measure it previously called “hopeless.”
In a friend-of-the-court filing, the Reporters Committee pointed out that the Second Circuit has already heard and rejected the troop-safety arguments, deeming the images public records required to be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The papers also pointed out the heightened public interest in release, now that the pro-transparency President Obama so briskly changed course on the issue.
“The controversy surrounding the withholding and the political nature of the decision — demonstrating an abrupt turnaround for a president committed to government openness and accountability — and the absence of a clearly articulated need for withholding make the photographs of even greater public concern,” the papers argued. “The American public has a great need to know the actions committed by the government and military so it can perform its role in holding government accountable for the decisions made.”
The Reporters Committee has been involved in this case since 2005. Both the Second Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York have declared these images must be released under the law.