The White House’s stunning reversal today of its decision last month to comply with a court order to release photos of prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan flies in the face of President Barack Obama’s promise to increase government transparency and accountability, according to a statement released by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“Withholding the photos from the public eye leaves the historical record incomplete and leaves the decision on what is reported in news accounts in the hands of the government,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “Such secrecy flies in the face of democracy and the ability of a free press to hold the government accountable for its actions.”
The government’s arguments against releasing the photos have been heard – and rejected– by two federal courts. Those courts particularly dismissed the government’s claims of potential harm to military personnel as speculative.
Almost three years have passed since the first court order in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Freedom of Information Act suit was issued, directing the Defense Department to release the photos. The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the ACLU in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan.
“The release of the Army Photos will inform and educate the public, and spark debate about the government’s treatment of Iraqi and Afghani detainees,” the brief said. “Providing citizens with information on government action is the very purpose that FOIA is intended to advance.”
“These photographs are undoubtedly disturbing – the truth often is,” Dalglish said. “But it is time for the White House to comply with the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals and release these photos.”
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.