MOSCOW, October 22 (RIA Novosti) - A federal judge on Tuesday gave the Obama Administration until December 12 to justify its withholding of more than 2,000 images showing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan being tortured by the US military.
President Obama in 2009 gave his own justification for holding back the photos, saying “the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger,” and that he feared “the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”
Two successive Secretaries of Defense, Robert Gates in 2009 and Leon Panetta in 2012, filed certifications making amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, which allowed the photos to be kept from the public.
However, in August federal judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that the government must list the reasons for keeping each individual photograph concealed from the public, stating that “Secretary Panetta’s certification is not sufficient to prevent publication of redacted photographs. It was conclusory as to all, when it should have been focused on each separate photograph.”
As a result, the US government will have to detail one by one the reasoning for keeping the photographs hidden. Hellerstein will then review the justification provided, and decide if and how many photos will be released. The judge himself has described some of the photos as “relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration.”
After Tuesday’s hearing, the Guardian quoted Marcellene Hearn, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, as saying “The American people deserve to know the truth about what happened in our detention centers abroad,” and expressed the organization’s commitment to push the court for the release of the photos.
The court order comes at a crucial juncture for the US government, as it returns American forces to Iraq once more, this time to assist in the fight against ISIL. However, the judge in his ruling did not order the government to demonstrate any current danger to US forces which may occur if the photos are released. Instead, he ordered the administration to show why release of the photos would have endangered American citizens or armed forces deployed outside the US at the time of the certification in November 2012.