Defense Department Refuses to Turn Over Abuse Photographs; Asks to File Secret Brief Justifying Refusal

July 22, 2005 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — Today was the day the government was supposed to process and redact photographs and videos relating to the abuse and torture of prisoners held abroad. Raising new arguments on the eve of its deadline, the United States government refused to release the materials to the public. The photographs and videos were to be processed for eventual release as a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.

“The government is raising newfound reasons for withholding records to which the public has an undeniable right,” said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU. “Instead of releasing these records and holding officials accountable for detainee abuse, the government now seeks to shield itself from public scrutiny by filing these reasons in secret.”

In a letter filed at the eleventh hour, the Department of Defense claims that photographs and videos of abuse that the court had previously ordered redacted for future release “could result in harm to individuals” for reasons that will be set forth in a memorandum and three declarations that the government will file under seal with the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

Under the government’s proposal, the documents explaining the government’s reasons for withholding the images of abuse will not be available to the public except in redacted form, and the photographs and videos may never be made public.

The ACLU has expressed skepticism at what appears to be yet another attempt by the government to deny the public critical information about the abuse and torture of prisoners.

The photographs and videos in question were redacted by the Defense Department in response to a June 1, 2005 court order relating to a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

To date, more than 60,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia.

The FOIA lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Singh, Jameel Jaffer, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur N. Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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