In a victory for the public’s right to know about abuses of prisoners in Iraq, the U.S. Department of Defense today withdrew its opposition to the release of images of alleged prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.
The Defense Department is dropping its appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. The appeal will officially be dismissed through a stipulation signed today by both parties, once it is approved by the court. The 2nd Circuit’s order will require the government to release the images, as ordered by the district court, within seven days of approving the order.
The American Civil Liberties Union initially sought the photographs and videos — termed the “Darby photos” — under the Freedom of Information Act after some of the images were leaked to the press in 2004. When the government refused to release the images, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York, where Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled that the images must be released, calling such action “the very purposes that FOIA is intended to advance.”
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Second Circuit to uphold the district court’s ruling earlier this month. Eighteen media organizations joined the Reporters Committee in arguing that FOIA required release of the images and that the government had improperly invoked exemptions to FOIA in arguing that they should remain shielded from public view.
The media’s amicus curiae brief can be found at www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20060310-amicusbrie.pdf