from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 44
May 12, 2004


Photographic images of torture of Iraqi prisoners held in U.S. custody, abhorrent as they are, cannot legitimately be "classified" as national security secrets, the Federation of American Scientists argued in a Freedom of Information Act request for the images today.

Classification of criminal activity such as torture is precluded by executive order, specifically section 1.7 of EO 13292.

In any case, "Disclosure of the requested information is a prerequisite to achieving full accountability for the abuses documented," FAS wrote in a FOIA request to the Department of Defense.

The photos were classified by the Pentagon, said John Ullyot, a spokesman for Sen. John Warner, and "only military officials can decide to declassify and release them." (Washington Times, May 11).

National security secrecy aside, other grounds could exist for withholding or modifying the images. These might include the personal privacy of the victims, as well as concerns relating to the prosecution of individual perpetrators and/or the identification of intelligence officers under cover.

Public release of the photographs would raise "serious questions about people's rights, as well as our ability to be able to prosecute," said Vice President Dick Cheney in an interview with Fox News May 11.

"We wouldn't want [...] to allow guilty parties off the hook, so that they couldn't be prosecuted. By the same token, you don't want to see innocent people inappropriately maligned by virtue of the release of photographs. So it's got to be handled in an intelligent, responsible fashion," the Vice President said.

But such concerns could be resolved by "sanitizing" the images. There does not seem to be any legal basis for categorically classifying or otherwise withholding all of them.

A copy of the May 12 Freedom of Information Act request is here:


The fact that the Bush Administration has embarked on an extraordinary, legally questionable course of action in its handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay has elicited concern even within the U.S. military, which still shelters an admirable diversity of opinion.

"With the decision to transfer Al Qaeda and Taliban captives to detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, the Pentagon headed into legally uncharted territory," wrote Pamela M. von Ness in a research paper published by the U.S. Army War College last year.

"The military has undertaken an unprecedented prisoner operation with an undetermined end-state."

The author's critique is her own; it is not an official view. But it reflects a real and growing concern about the government's apparent disregard of international norms.

"Thirty years ago, American prisoners of war were being brutalized in North Vietnam, and an outraged American Government sought to shame their captors into respecting the Geneva Conventions. It reminds us that the issue is not about whether we sympathize with accused terrorists. It is about protecting a set of rules that protect all people, including American service men and women taken captive in war."

See "Guantanamo Detainees: National Security or Civil Liberties," by Pamela M. von Ness, U.S. Army War College Strategy Research Project, April 2003:


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) "have at last come of age," according to an enthusiastic new assessment from the Defense Science Board (DSB).

"There is no longer any question of the technical viability or operational utility of UAVs," the authors wrote.

Yet "the overall pace of introduction has been slow. Indeed, as of early summer 2003, only 175 UAVs of Pioneer/Shadow-size or larger were operational throughout the DoD...."

Some UAV performance goals remain elusive.

"High altitude, long endurance, deep penetration, stealthy ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] is the most difficult of all possible UAV missions," the DSB observed.

"This 'holy grail' has been pursued in many different, classified programs over the past 25 years and, for one reason or another, each program has been terminated."

See "Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Uninhabited Combat Aerial Vehicles," February 2004 (80 pages, 850 KB PDF file):


Urban Sunrise is not a new perfume. It is the name of an ambitious DARPA-funded program to develop intelligence-based simulations of military operations in urban environments that will permit analysts to anticipate military outcomes.

"The complexity of urban areas poses both analytic and operational challenges that are addressed by the Urban Sunrise capabilities," a recent report on the initiative said.

Among such challenges is "the need for greater cultural awareness of the urban battlespace including the intangible information and cognitive infrastructures that describe the flows of information across the urban terrain, and the perceptions and beliefs of civil, government and military populations."

See the initial report on "Urban Sunrise," sponsored by DARPA, February 2004 (182 pages, 4 MB PDF file):


More than 50 countries have now enacted freedom of information laws, and more than half of these laws were passed in the last decade, according to an updated survey prepared by David Banisar and published today on the website

See "Freedom of Information and Access to Government Records Around the World" by David Banisar:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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