from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 42
May 7, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


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.

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.


Questions of secrecy and disclosure are increasingly prominent in congressional interactions with the executive branch, particularly on the part of Republican members of Congress.

House Republicans wrote to Defense Secretary Gates this week to complain about what they called "a disturbing trend of restricting budget and inspection information within the Department of Defense."

They complained specifically about a recent policy of classifying reports of ship inspections that were previously unclassified. "It is sometimes only through the media and public awareness... that we learn of the urgent need to address some of the shortfalls the military has.... If these reports are classified, we are unable to communicate these needs to the public," wrote Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and several Republican colleagues from the House Armed Services Committee on May 5.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has a "moral obligation" to declassify records concerning Uighur detainees who might be released into the United States from Guantanamo, insisted Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).

"This administration has already shown that it has no qualms about releasing selected classified documents," Rep. Wolf said on May 4, referring to the release of the Office of Legal Counsel memos on torture. "The White House cannot just pick and choose what classified information it deems worthy of releasing.... I call on the Obama administration to declassify and release all the information that they have available [about the Uighur detainees] so the American people can make a judgment."


The U.S. Army yesterday issued a revised and updated safety policy for microbiology and biomedical laboratories.

The new policy "prescribes the technical safety requirements for the use, handling, transportation, transfer, storage, and disposal of infectious agents and toxins (IAT) rated at biosafety level 2 (BSL–2) and above." It applies to "all U.S. Army activities and facilities in which IAT are used."

"Microbiological and biomedical activities are conducted by the U.S. Army in developing measures to identify, detect, diagnose, treat, and protect against IAT," the 45 page document explains. See "Safety Standards for Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories," U.S. Army Pamphlet 385-69, May 6, 2009.


The Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) was enacted in 1980 to provide a mechanism for handling classified information that was likely to arise in criminal trials. The Act provided for the identification of such information, provisions for establishing its relevance and admissibility, and for introducing unclassified substitutions that could be openly discussed at trial.

The CIPA has figured prominently in numerous trials, most recently in the now-concluded case against two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It also serves as a possible model and inspiration for resolving other conflicts between national security secrecy and due process in civil cases, such as those involving state secrets.

"As Congress recognized when it passed the Classified Information Procedures Act, courts have many tools at their disposal to move litigation forward even when some of the evidence cannot be disclosed," said Sen. Russ Feingold earlier this year in endorsing the State Secrets Protection Act (S.417).

A report on the CIPA, including discussion of its shortcomings and limitations, was prepared by the Congressional Research Service in 1989. That report has not been updated to include recent developments, and it has been withdrawn from distribution by CRS. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA): An Overview," March 2, 1989:


New reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following:

"Sending Mail to Members of the Armed Forces at Reduced or Free Postage: An Overview," April 27, 2009:

"State, Foreign Operations Appropriations: A Guide to Component Accounts," March 30, 2009:

"Foreign Operations Appropriations: General Provisions," April 30, 2009:

"Taiwan-U.S. Relations: Developments and Policy Implications," May 1, 2009:

"Proposals for a Congressional Commission on the Financial Crisis: A Comparative Analysis," April 29, 2009:

"Assessment in Elementary and Secondary Education: A Primer," April 9, 2009:

"U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: Senate Rejections and Committee Votes Other Than to Report Favorably, 1939-2009," March 24, 2009:

"The 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) Outbreak: Selected Legal Issues," May 4, 2009:


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

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