Fearing riots, U.S. gov't holds back Abu Ghraib photos
Sun Oct 9, 2005 00:26

Fearing riots, U.S. gov't holds back Abu Ghraib photos
By William Fisher
Updated Aug 29, 2005

NEW YORK (IPS/GIN) - Civil libertarians and the Pentagon appear headed
for yet another train wreck in the ongoing dispute over the so-called
second batch of photos from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),
the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and a number of medical
and veterans groups demanding release of 87 new videos and photographs
depicting detainee abuse at the now infamous prison, the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said the release would
result in "riots, violence and attacks by insurgents."

In court papers filed to contest the lawsuit, Gen. Myers said he
consulted with Gen. John Abizaid, head of the United States Central
Command, and Gen. George Casey Jr., the commander of the U.S. forces
in Iraq. Both officers also opposed the release, Gen. Myers said.

He believes the release of the photos would "incite public opinion in
the Muslim world and put the lives of American soldiers and
officials at risk," according to documents unsealed in federal court
in New York.

"The situation on the ground in Iraq is dynamic and dangerous," Gen.
Meyers added, with 70 insurgent attacks daily. He also said there was
evidence that the Taliban was gaining ground because of popular
discontent in Afghanistan.

Gen. Myers cited the violence that erupted in some Muslim countries in
May after Newsweek published an item, which it later retracted, saying
that a Qur'an had been thrown in a toilet in the United States
detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also said the images
could fuel terrorist disinformation campaigns.

The 87 "new" photos and four videotapes taken at Abu Ghraib were
among those turned over to Army investigators last year by Specialist
Joseph Darby, a reservist who was posted at the prison.

In legal papers recently unsealed, the ACLU and its allied groups
urged the court to order the release of photographs and videos, and
also asked the court to reject the government's attempt to file some
of its legal arguments in secret.

It said that until the first photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib
were made public in April 2004, the government had consistently denied
that any wrongdoing had taken place, despite news reports to the
contrary. Since then, the ACLU has obtained, through a court order,
more than 60,000 pages of government documents regarding torture and
abuse of detainees.

At a recent court hearing, the judge said he generally ruled in favor
of public disclosure and ordered the government to reveal some
redacted parts of its argument for blocking the release of pictures
and videotapes.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said his rulings pertained to
arguments by Gen. Myers. "By and large, I ruled in favor of public
disclosure," he said. The judge said he believes photographs "are the
best evidence the public can have of what occurred" at the prison.

He scheduled arguments on the question of whether the photographs and
videos should be released for Aug. 30, saying a speedy decision is
important so the public's right to know isn't compromised.

The ACLU has also called for an independent counsel with subpoena
power to investigate the torture scandal, including the role of senior
policymakers, and has filed a separate lawsuit to hold Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and high-ranking military officers accountable.

Reed Brody, head of international programs for Human Rights Watch
(HRW), told IPS, "The problem is not the photos, but the policy of
abuse. The release of the first photos last year led us to the
revelations that senior U.S. officials had secretly sidelined the
Geneva Conventions, re-defined "torture", and approved illegal
coercive interrogation methods.

"The release of new photos showing crimes perpetrated on detainees
could create new impetus to expose and prosecute those ultimately
responsible and hopefully prevent these practices from being repeated."

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights,
noted that, "The administration's response to the release of the
photos is to kill the messenger, rather then to investigate and
prosecute the real culprits: Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld,
Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales, Generals Miller and Sanchez, and

He agreed that "the photos will be upsetting to anyone who cares about
humane treatment and particularly to those in the Muslim world, but
the photos reflect the reality of the type of treatment detainees were
subjected to."

"Rather than suppress the best evidence of widespread torture of
Muslim detainees, the administration ought to launch a fully
independent investigation and ought to see that an independent
prosecutor is appointed," he told IPS.

He added, "Ensuring accountability for the torture conspiracy is the
best way of demonstrating to the Muslim world that this outrage has
come to an end and will not be repeated."

The government initially objected to the release of the images, on the
grounds that it would violate the Geneva Conventions rights of the
detainees depicted in the images. That concern was addressed by court
order on June 1, directing the government to redact any personally
identifying characteristics from the images. The ACLU did not object
to those redactions.

The ACLU said the government has repeatedly taken the position that
the detainees themselves cannot rely on the Geneva Conventions in
legal proceedings to challenge their mistreatment by U.S. personnel.

In a court declaration, former U.S. Army Colonel Michael Pheneger, a
retired military intelligence expert, responded to the government's
"cause and effect" argument that release of the images would spark
violence abroad.

"Our enemies seek to prevent the United States from achieving its
objectives in the Middle East," he said. "They do not need specific
provocations to justify their actions."

Attacks by insurgents "will continue, regardless of whether the photos
and tapes are released," he added.

The case arose from a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA) by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights,
Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans
for Peace.



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