Friday, April 24, 2009

pre-empting the inevitable?

LATimes | The Obama administration agreed late Thursday to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush White House.

The decision will make public for the first time photos obtained in military investigations at facilities other than the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Forty-four photos that the American Civil Liberties Union was seeking in a court case, plus a "substantial number" of other images, will be released by May 28.

The photos, examined by Air Force and Army criminal investigators, are apparently not as shocking as those taken at Abu Ghraib, which became a symbol of U.S. mistakes in Iraq. But Defense Department officials nevertheless are concerned that the release could incite another backlash in the Middle East.

Some of the photos show U.S. service members intimidating or threatening detainees by pointing weapons at them, according to officials who have seen them. Military officers have been court-martialed for threatening detainees at gunpoint.

"This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush administration's claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational," said Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the ACLU, which reached the agreement as part of a long-running legal battle for documents related to anti-terrorism policies under President George W. Bush.

The decision comes as President Obama is trying to quell a drive to investigate Bush-era practices, which was spurred in part by his release last week of Justice Department memos detailing the Bush administration's legal justifications for harsh interrogations. But the photos and other possible disclosures stemming from the ACLU lawsuit threaten to stoke the controversy.

Other disclosures to be considered in the weeks ahead include transcripts of detainee interrogations, a CIA inspector general's report that has largely been kept secret, and background materials in a Justice Department investigation into prisoner abuse.

In each instance, Obama and his administration are being forced to decide whether to release the material entirely, disclose it with redactions, or follow the lead of the Bush administration and fight in court to keep it classified.