Supreme Court decision lets Pentagon keep detainee photos secret
The Supreme Court Monday threw out a federal appeals court ruling requiring the release of photos that allegedly show abuse of US-held detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The court cited a new law that allows the Defense Secretary to withhold such photos.
The US Supreme Court Monday vacated a federal appeals court ruling requiring disclosure of a cache of photos allegedly depicting abuse of US-held detainees overseas during the Bush administration.Skip to next paragraph
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The high court action removed a legal precedent that made it harder for the government to withhold certain documents from the public. The Obama administration had asked the court to take that action.
Citing a new law that allows the secretary of defense to exempt the photos from disclosure, the Supreme Court remanded the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case back to the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
The justices instructed the appeals court to reconsider the case in light of the new law and recent actions by the Defense Secretary that have apparently rendered the photo disclosure case moot.
The action is a setback for lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who had filed the FOIA lawsuit seeking to force the government to disclose the images to the American public.
Alleged detainee abuse
At issue in the case was a group of 44 photographs taken by military officials investigating allegations of detainee abuse at seven locations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, the government had identified a "substantial number" of similar photos that would likely also be subject to public disclosure under the appeals court ruling.
President Obama initially did not object to the public release of the photos. But his administration subsequently reversed course and argued in court that public release of the photos would inflame anti-American sentiments and endanger US military personnel, diplomats, and citizens around the world. Government lawyers claimed the photos were exempt from FOIA release under a provision protecting law-enforcement documents that might threaten the life or safety of someone.
Lawyers with the ACLU argued that there was no legitimate reason not to release the photos. The pictures were reportedly part of files assembled by military investigators looking into allegations of detainee abuses.
The Second Circuit agreed with the ACLU and ordered the government to release the photos.