ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
There are more photographs and videos of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. And right now the Pentagon, human rights groups and media organizations are preparing final arguments in a case that will determine whether the Bush administration has to release them. The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have launched a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit trying to get the images. The administration says making them public could endanger American troops. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:
The 87 photographs and four videos are contained on a CD, which was handed to military investigators in early 2004 by Sergeant Joseph Darby, the guard at Abu Ghraib prison who exposed the scandal. Only a few of the photos on that CD have been made public. They show explicit pictures of US soldiers physically abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi detainees. For months the ACLU and other organizations have been trying to force the Pentagon to make the rest of the images public, but the administration has resisted all attempts, says Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU.
Mr. ANTHONY ROMERO (Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union): The public has a right to know what went on in Iraq, and we yet don't have all the facts. The fact that the government's trying so hard to keep this from public view and from public scrutiny raises concerns about what, in fact, is on these videos and photographs that we yet don't know about.
NORTHAM: Romero says he's concerned that the government has brought out what he calls the big guns. He's referring to General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who went before a federal judge and argued against making the photographs and videos public. In a 23-page declaration, Myers said that releasing the images could endanger the lives of US and allied troops as well as civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. General William Nash, a retired Army major general and now a senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations, echoed other arguments made by General Myers.
General WILLIAM NASH (Retired, US Army; Council for Foreign Relations): The photographs obviously could have a very harmful impact on the perception of the United States, renew all the controversy that took place previously. And the consequences would be more uprisings, more calls for withdrawal and certainly could provide more of a recruiting base for those who oppose us.
NORTHAM: Scott Sullivan, a professor at Duke University and an expert on military law, agrees that releasing the photos could once again inflame people. But he says he doubts it will put US soldiers in more jeopardy than they are right now. Sullivan says there is a greater danger in the appearance that the US government has something to hide.
Professor SCOTT SULLIVAN (Duke University): What we have been trying to do is to say, `There was misconduct at Abu Ghraib. It's being dealt with by punishment and courts-marital. We have nothing to hide.' To try to seal documents or photos, the Darby photos, I think is going the wrong direction.
NORTHAM: General Nash says he understands the importance of the people's right to know and holding the government accountable for its actions. But, Nash says, national security concerns are paramount, especially in a time of war.
Gen. NASH: You know, I think there's a degree of respect and trust and confidence we should have in our military leaders, our uniformed soldiers that are participating in this decision. And they're trying to continue the job in Iraq, like I say, under very trying conditions.
NORTHAM: If a federal judge does rule that the pictures can be made public, it will be up to the ACLU to decide what to do with them, especially if there are any explosive images. The ACLU's Romero says there have discussions about this already at his organization.
Mr. ROMERO: It's a very hard hypothetical to answer without seeing what's in front of us. We want to be a responsible organization, but our responsibility is about also holding our government accountable.
NORTHAM: A federal judge will hold another round of arguments on August 30th to decide whether or not the photographs and videos should be released. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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