Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wire: Congress Set to Act to Keep Detainee Photos From Public

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2009 -- Newswire services this morning reported that Congress is set to allow the Pentagon to keep new pictures of foreign detainees allegedly abused from the public, a move intended to end a legal fight over the photographs' release that has reached the Supreme Court.

Federal courts have so far rejected the government's arguments against the release of 21 color photographs showing prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq allegedly being abused by Americans, The Associated Press reported Saturday.

The Obama administration believes giving the imminent grant of authority over the release of such pictures to the defense secretary would short-circuit a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act, AP said.
The White House is asking the justices to put off consideration of the case until after a vote on the measure in the House and Senate, as early as next week. The provision is part of a larger homeland security spending bill and would allow the defense secretary to withhold photographs relating to detainees by certifying their release would endanger soldiers or other government workers.
AP reported that the ACLU said the court should not disturb a ruling by the federal appeals court in New York ordering the photographs' release. The pending congressional action "does not supply any reason for delay," Jameel Jaffer, director of ACLU's national security project, told the court.

The dispute is on a list of cases the Supreme Court could act on Tuesday.
Lower courts have ruled that a provision of FOIA allows documents to be withheld from the public for security reasons only in instances where there are specific threats against individuals.

President Barack Obama initially indicated he would not fight the release of the photographs. He reversed course in May and authorized an appeal to the high court.

The president said he was persuaded that disclosure could further incite violence in Afghanistan and Iraq and endanger U.S. troops there.

The photographs at issue were taken by service members in Iraq and Afghanistan and were part of criminal investigations of alleged abuse. Some pictures show "soldiers pointing pistols or rifles at the heads of hooded and handcuffed detainees," Solicitor General Elena Kagan said in the appeal to the high court.
AP noted that the ACLU, in seeking the other pictures, said the government had long argued that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was isolated and was an aberration. The new photos would show that the abuse was more widespread, the ACLU said.

Some have wondered why Obama hasn't simply issued an executive order making the photos a national security secret to end the dispute.

(Report from newswire sources.)

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