It's been a long battle, but a federal appeal court has ruled that photos of torture at Abu Ghraib are not exempt from FOIA and dismissed arguments that the images could "lead to the endangerment of the life or safety of any individual." Although, the images were public long before now, the victory for the public's right to know is nonetheless an important one.
After nearly five years of fighting between the federal government and the American Civil Liberties Union over images of torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, a federal appeals court ruled today that the photos must be made available to the public.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan (2nd Cir.) affirmed a 2006 district court order that dismissed the government's arguments that privacy rights of the soldiers and detainees in the images would be violated -- noting the redactions in the form of black bars over the subjects' faces -- and agreed that any potential damage caused by the release of the photos was "far too speculative" to justify their withholding.
The Department of Defense had initially only argued the privacy implications warranted withholding the 29 images under the Freedom of Information Act. Months after oral arguments, the defendants asserted a second rationale for non-disclosure -- essentially that the images were so incendiary that the government "reasonably believed" their release could lead to endangerment of "the life or safety of any individual."