MANHATTAN (CN) – The Pentagon’s vague assertions of national security cannot excuse withholding more than 2,000 photographs from Abu Ghraib prison from public scrutiny, a federal judge ruled.
The March 20 order will become effective within 60 days unless the government files an appeal.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been fighting for the release of the photographs in federal court here since the U.S. military’s torture and abuse at the now-shuttered Iraqi prison came to light in 2004.
More than a decade later, the pictures remain “crucial to the public record,” the ACLU’s deputy director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.
“They’re the best evidence of what took place in the military’s detention centers, and their disclosure would help the public better understand the implications of some of the Bush administration’s policies,” he said.
President Barack Obama’s administration fought to suppress the images by having former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta assert that their release could endanger U.S. citizens and armed service members.
Nearly a year has passed since U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the government to produce evidence supporting that warning.
On Friday, Hellerstein found that the Pentagon still had not provided “sufficiently individualized” evidence establishing the “secretary’s own basis for concluding that disclosure would endanger Americans.”
The government must disclose “each and all of the photographs” responsive to the ACLU’s requests, his three-page order states.
The ACLU’s Jaffer called the Obama administration’s rationale for withholding the photographs “illegitimate and dangerous.”
“To allow the government to suppress any image that might provoke someone, somewhere, to violence would be to give the government sweeping power to suppress evidence of its own agents’ misconduct,” Jaffer said in a statement. “Giving the government that kind of censorial power would have implications far beyond this specific context.”
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