The ACLU has won a landmark ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which has slammed the Bush administration for using ridiculous arguments for withholding 21 graphic photos of detainee abuse which formed part of a FOIA request.
The government claimed that the public disclosure of such evidence would generate outrage and would violate U.S. obligations towards detainees under the Geneva Conventions because they would embarrass or humiliate the prisoners.
But the court ruled in the first instance that outrage (over abuse and torture, mind you, so it would be justified outrage) where no specific individual could be named as being at risk was too wide an exemption to grant.
"It is plainly insufficient to claim that releasing documents could reasonably be expected to endanger some unspecified member of a group so vast as to encompass all United States troops, coalition forces and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan," the appeals court said.
And in the second instance, the Court pointed to the way in which the US had published pictures photographs of dead, tortured and abused prisoners in Japanese and German prison and concentration camps after World War II.
"Yet the United States championed the use and dissemination of such photographs to hold perpetrators accountable," the court said.
The ACLU's attorney Amrit Singh told the AP that:
"These photographs depict abuse at locations other than Abu Ghraib," she said of the 21 pictures that the court ordered for release. "Their release is to hold government accountable for torture policies and bring an end once and for all to the abuse of prisoners."
And the ACLU's press release continues:
(T)he appeals court today rejected the government's attempt to use the FOIA as "an all-purpose damper on global controversy" and recognized the "significant public interest in the disclosure of these photographs" in light of government misconduct. The court also recognized that releasing the photographs is likely to prevent "further abuse of prisoners."
"This is yet another case in which the administration used national security as a pretext to suppress information relating to crimes that were endorsed, encouraged or tolerated by government officials," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "The appeals court was correct to recognize both that the administration's suppression of the photographs was without legal basis and that disclosure will further the purposes of the Geneva Conventions by deterring the abuse and torture of prisoners in the future."
Singh noted that the government admits it has other photos which are not part of this ruling, but I'd like to remind everyone that photos are just the tip of the iceberg. Back in February a Seton Hall Law report revealed that the US military military videotaped all of the interrogations at Guantanamo and other interrogation centers and retained them. There were around 24,000 recordings made, in all and the Bush administration have been highly evasive about their current whereabouts.
Still the release of these photos will once again show the Bush administration's institutionalized use of torture to the world - and they should have their feet held to the fire for such acts. Not only will the Muslim world be outraged - for does anyone doubt that most or all of the victims pictured will be Muslim? But European nations will also come under renewed internal pressure to eschew co-operation in illegal rendition with any US administration that perpetuates Bush policy.
And maybe, just maybe, someone in the press will hold up the pictures to John McCain and ask him whether he thinks what he sees there constitutes actual torture, not any lesser "enhanced interrogation techniques".