Facing Deadline on Releasing Abuse Photos, Government Stalls, ACLU Says

Abu Ghraib
A U.S. soldier walks between cells with Iraqi detainees in 2004 at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. Reuters

Last week, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein of New York gave the Obama administration until Wednesday at noon to decide whether it would comply with his ruling or appeal in the decade-long battle with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the disclosure of around 2,100 pictures depicting U.S. military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hellerstein’s ruling required the U.S. government to review “each and every photograph, individually and in relation to the others,” and demonstrate why the release of each would endanger American lives.

Instead, the administration submitted a letter to the court on Wednesday afternoon calling the judge’s ruling “unclear” and requesting “further clarification.” While the government insisted it is acting in “good faith,” the ACLU is not convinced.

“The government says it’s confused about what the judge has ordered, but the judge’s ruling couldn’t be much clearer,” says Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the ACLU. “The government’s letter is just another delaying tactic.”

Last week, Hellerstein addressed the possibility that the government is trying to delay. “[P]ostponing the day of reckoning of something that is considered to be sensitive is itself a victory, because it postpones an unpleasant decision to a succeeding generation,” he said. “I would not want to feel that this is the purpose of the government.”