A federal judge on Thursday
ordered the Defense Department to release 74 photos and three videos provided
by Darby depicting prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib.
A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Defense Department to release
74 photos and three videos depicting prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, some of which
may have already been published worldwide.
Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered the
Defense Department to release photos provided by Sgt. Joseph Darby, some of
which were leaked more than a year ago and set off the Iraqi prisoner abuse
The Defense Department had sought to suppress their release, saying publication
of new images could incite more violence in Iraq.
Among Darby's pictures already published were one that outraged the world showing
Pvt. Lynndie England with a naked prisoner on a leash. England was sentenced
to three years in jail for her part in the scandal. It is not known if this
picture or other famed images are among the 74 being contested.
The written ruling came in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed
in 2003 by civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union,
over treatment of U.S.-held detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
The judge had ordered the release of the photos in June, but the Department
of Defense appealed the decision, warning the judge in oral arguments that releasing
the pictures could incite more violence among insurgents in Iraq.
But in a strongly worded ruling on Thursday, the judge noted that "the
terrorists in Iraq do not need pretexts for their barbarism" and that America
"does not surrender to blackmail and fear of blackmail is not a legally
The judge said withholding the photos that show American soldiers forcing prisoners
"to pose in a manner that compromised their humanity and dignity"
would be contrary to the democratic freedoms that American troops were fighting
"Indeed, the freedoms we champion are as important to our success in Iraq
and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which out troops are armed,"
Hellerstein said. "As President Bush said, we fight to spread freedom so
the freedoms of Americans will be made more secure."
In hearing oral arguments in August, the judge hesitated to release the pictures,
wondering aloud how he could ignore "the expert opinion of (Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff) General (Richard) Myers" and "how quickly
they would be put on the 6 o'clock or 11 o'clock news?"
WILL INITIATE DEBATE
But in his order the judge said releasing them was in the public interest because
their publication would initiate debate on the conduct of American soldiers
and about the U.S. Army's command structure, poor training and lack of supervision.
The judge gave the government 20 days to appeal before releasing the pictures,
which are edited so the faces of prisoners are not shown.
Lt. Col. John Skinner, a Pentagon spokesman on detainee issues said the Department
of Defense, "continues to consult with the Department of Justice on this
litigation, to include additional legal options."
A defense official who asked not to be named said the ruling does not necessarily
mean the immediate release of the images, noting the possibility of appeal.
ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said the ruling was a victory for government accountability.
"The United States government cannot continue to hide the truth about
who is ultimately responsible for the systematic abuse of detainees from the
American public," she said.
To date, more than 36,000 documents have been released to the ACLU, which has
filed suit against several government departments and agencies, including the
CIA, FBI and Department of Justice.