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Government Asks Supreme Court To Hear Torture Photo Case

The government today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal of a court ruling requiring the release of photos depicting the abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody at overseas locations. In September 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered the government to turn over the photos in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. The Obama administration originally indicated that it would not appeal that decision and would release the photos, but abruptly reversed its position shortly before the agreed-upon deadline.

“The appeals court soundly rejected all of the government’s arguments for withholding the photos, and it’s unfortunate that the government has chosen to contest that decision,” said Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the ACLU. “These photos would provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib. As disturbing as the photos may be, it is critical that the American people know the full truth about the abuse that occurred in their name.”

On May 28, the government filed a motion asking the appeals court to recall its order for the release of the photos on the grounds that it would appeal the case to the Supreme Court. The court consented and recalled its mandate on June 10. The government has since received two extensions to its deadline to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.

“These photos are a crucial part of the historical record, and the appeals court was right to find that they should be released,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “It’s disappointing that the Obama administration, which has rightly acknowledged the connection between transparency and accountability, is continuing to argue that these photographs should be suppressed.”

The ACLU is seeking the disclosure of the photos with all individual identifying information deleted, to protect the identity of those pictured. The courts have ordered them released in that form.

In addition to Jaffer and Singh, attorneys on the case are Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Lawrence S. Lustberg and Jenny Brooke Condon of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C.; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

More about the case, including the legal documents, is available online at

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