NEW YORK -- In legal papers unsealed today, the American Civil Liberties Union
urged a federal court to order the release of photographs and videos that depict
the abuse and torture of prisoners in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The ACLU also asked the court to reject the government's attempt to file some
of its legal arguments in secret.
"The ACLU shares everyone's deep concern about the dangers facing American
soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D.
Romero. "The actions depicted in these photos and videos demonstrate the
failure of American leaders who placed our young men and women in compromising
situations and are now seeking to blame them for it. The real shame here is
that our leaders left our troops out on a limb and now they are hiding behind
a veil of rank and government office to avoid accountability."
Romero noted 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.
Despite this evidence, the government continues to minimize the extent of the
torture and to describe it as the action of a few rogue soldiers. In response,
the ACLU has 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 Secretary Rumsfeld and high-ranking military officers
In a court declaration that was also unsealed today, former U.S. Army Colonel
Michael E. 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." Noting that
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, has estimated
that insurgents average 70 attacks a day, Col. Pheneger added: "The attacks
will continue regardless of whether the photos and tapes are released."
The ACLU is also engaged in an ongoing dispute over the government's efforts
to keep some of its legal documents in the case under seal and to conduct court
hearings behind closed doors, including a hearing scheduled for this Monday,
August 15. Depending on the court's ruling on the sealing order during the first
part of that hearing, arguments regarding the photos and videos may be opened
to the media and the public.
The ACLU will file an additional brief tomorrow responding to the government's
efforts to suppress the photographs and to keep its legal arguments secret.
The documents unsealed today are available online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia.
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.
It is worth noting, the ACLU said, that 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 American personnel.
The case arose from a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act 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.
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 Amrit 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.
The ACLU's Motion to Vacate the Protective Order and for Access to Papers Filed
by the Government is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/SafeandFree.cfm?ID=18909&c=206.
The ACLU's Memo in Opposition to Defendant's Supplemental Memo of Law and in
Support of Plaintiff's motion of Partial Summary Judgment is available online
The Declaration of Michael E. Pheneger is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/International/International.cfm?ID=18906&c=36.