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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Feds Release 200 New Photos of Abu Ghraib Torture

MANHATTAN (CN) - Though the far more graphic images remain censored, the Department of Defense released nearly 200 new photographs carefully documenting and measuring the wounds suffered by prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Rights groups renewed their calls for criminal investigation in response to the Friday document dump.

The American Civil Liberties Union in particular has been fighting for the release of as many as 2,000 such pictures since 2004, when it first sued the Pentagon in the Manhattan Federal Court.

One decade into its suit, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected the government's central rationale for keeping the lid on the images - that their dissemination would endanger the lives of U.S. citizens and military personnel abroad.

"I have reviewed some of these photographs and I know that many of these photographs are relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration," Hellerstein wrote at the time. "Even if some of the photographs could prompt a backlash that would harm Americans, it may be the case that the innocuous documents could be disclosed without endangering the citizens, armed forces or employees of the United States."

The 198 images released on Friday are far less graphic than the images that provoked widespread opposition to the Iraq War.

Obscuring the prisoners' identifying features, the images show cuts and bruises on limbs, feet heads and torsos.

The first three pages show each of the images stamped in block capital letters as a "criminal investigation exhibit," along with careful measurement of the wounds with rulers and other objects placed into the photographs for perspective.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed in a statement that the images came from "independent criminal investigations" into allegations of misconduct.

"The investigations substantiated approximately 14 of the allegations, while approximately 42 allegations of misconduct were unsubstantiated," the spokesman said. "From those cases with substantiated allegations, 65 service members received some form of disciplinary action. The disciplinary actions ranged from letters of reprimand to life imprisonment, and of the 65 who received disciplinary action, 26 were convicted at courts-martial."

While celebrating the release, the ACLU emphasized in a blog post that the unseen images tell the "bigger story."

In April, the group noted that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered an investigation based on a picture of a female soldier "posing as if [she] was sticking the end of a broom stick into the rectum" of a detainee, who was bound and hooded in a stress position.

The pictures showed enough, however, for Amnesty International's director of the U.S. Security and Human Rights Program to find what she described as fresh evidence of a widespread torture program conducted by the U.S. military.

"Today's release illustrates just a small portion of the real-life horror story that was the U.S. government's practice of torture," director Naureen Shah wrote. "Prosecutors should review these and other documents for evidence of torture and other ill-treatment. These photos are not only reminders of torture committed by U.S. personnel, they may provide potential new evidence of criminal wrongdoing."

"Prosecutors should immediately reopen and expand investigations into torture and other human rights violations," she continued. "The Justice Department has a history of ignoring new evidence of past crimes, including the full Senate torture report published last year. The military justice system lacks independence and cannot provide justice here."

Calling today's release "long overdue," the ACLU's legal director Jameel Jaffer noted that "hundreds of photographs are still being withheld."

"The still-secret pictures are the best evidence of the serious abuses that took place in military detention centers," he said. "The government's selective disclosure risks misleading the public about the true extent of the abuse."

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