Rights advocates welcome rehearing denial in detainee photo case

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) March 17 hailed a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit not to revisit an earlier decision requiring the Department of Defense (DoD) to disclose photographs of apparent detainee abuse. The Bush administration filed a request for rehearing in November in response to a Second Circuit ruling that the DoD must release the photographs of Iraqi and Afghan detainees after redacting personally identifying information.

Endorsing Tuesday’s decision, ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh said that:

This decision is a stinging rejection of the Bush administration’s attempt to keep the public in the dark about the widespread abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody abroad. These photographs demonstrate that prison abuse was not aberrational and not confined to Abu Ghraib. Release of the photographs would send a powerful message that the new administration intends to make a clean break from the unaccountability of the Bush years.

The government had sought to stifle release of the photographs, requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), on the grounds that they would either invade the privacy of the detainees or insight retaliation against US forces abroad. The Second Circuit held that the redaction of private information ordered by a lower court would alleviate any privacy concerns, and that the failure to release information due to safety concerns requires that “an agency must identify at least one [endangered] individual with reasonable specificity.”

Governmental secrecy and the scope of the FOIA have been frequent points of disagreement between the US government and rights groups in recent years. The US Department of Justice acknowledged earlier this month that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had destroyed 92 interrogation video tapes, despite an August 2008 judicial order. In January, the Second Circuit ruled that the DoD was not obligated under FOIA to release information on Guantanamo detainee interrogation to the Associated Press, citing privacy concerns and a lack of public interest in the information. In June, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the FOIA does not require the National Security Agency (NSA) to tell lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees whether it has used electronic surveillance methods to monitor their communications. Earlier this year, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order granting broader access to public documents and “reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency.” (Jurist, March 17)

See our last post on torture scandal.

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