White House Urged to Withhold Detainee Photos

The White House should intervene to block the impending release of certain photographs showing detainees abused by U.S. military personnel, Senators Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham wrote in a letter to President Obama yesterday.  Release of the photos is expected by May 28 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been clearly prohibited will serve no public good, but will empower al-Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country’s image, and endanger our men and women in uniform,” the Senators wrote.

“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to fight the release of these old pictures of detainees in the war on terror, including appealing the decision of the Second Circuit in the ACLU lawsuit to the Supreme Court and pursuing all legal options to prevent the public disclosure of these pictures,” they wrote in the May 6 letter (pdf).

The ACLU said release of the photos was imperative.

“These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib,” said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse.”

The disagreement reflects conflicting assessments of which is more dangerous and objectionable– the release of the photographs or the abusive behavior that they depict.  It also turns on unresolved questions concerning the scale of prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel, and the nature of the public accounting that can or should be required.

A response to the appeal from Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Graham was not immediately forthcoming from the White House.

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