Saturday, June 04, 2005

More Abu Ghraib images ordered - The Boston Globe - - Washington - News

More Abu Ghraib images ordered - The Boston Globe - - Washington - News: "
More Abu Ghraib images ordered
Hide detainee IDs, judge tells Army
By Alan Wirzbicki, Globe Correspondent | June 4, 2005

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge in New York has ordered the Army to prepare more photographs that allegedly depict the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, an order which a civil liberties group says is the first step to making the potentially explosive images public.

In his ruling Wednesday, US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein gave the military until June 30 to prepare the 144 pictures and four videotapes by hiding or obscuring the faces of the detainees. The images were obtained by an Army soldier who helped uncover the abuse scandal.

The Army has argued that the images violate Geneva Conventions privacy codes and should be private. The ACLU convinced Hellerstein that the detainees' faces could be redacted or blurred to protect their privacy before they are made public.

Hellerstein did not directly order the Pentagon to hand over the photos. The ACLU lawyer involved in the case said the group expects to get the images soon after the deadline. The lawyer, Amrit Singh, said she does not know what the images show.

''All we know is that these are photographs of abuse of detainees held in Abu Ghraib," she said. ''From our perspective, the public has an undeniable right to receive all these documents, which reveal the torture of detainees and underscore the need for an independent investigation."

But Jim Turner, a Defense Department spokesman, said the judge has only ordered the military to conceal the identities of the detainees in the photos, not make them public.

''This is a matter still in litigation," Turner said. ''The court order that we have only instructs us to 'reprocess and redact' the photos. Final dispossession of the images has not been decided at this time."

The possible release of more pictures that could show prisoners being humiliated or abused follows violent protests in Afghanistan over allegations that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station desecrated the Koran while questioning Muslim detainees.

Hellerstein's ruling is bad timing for the United States, said Nikolas Gvosdev, a senior fellow for strategic studies at the Nixon Center in Washington. ''The photos may or may not be worse than what's already been released, but it will simply put this back on the front burner," said Gvosdev.

Because the photos and other documents related to Abu Ghraib have not been released all at once, ''it's just a constant dripping, and it makes it hard for the US to have a clean break," Gvosdev said. ''We just haven't been able to put Abu Ghraib behind us."

Several of the military guards identified in the first batch of Abu Ghraib photos made public in the spring of 2004 have been convicted and punished for their roles in the abuse, which included intimidation with guard dogs, mock torture, public humiliation, and forced nudity, a Muslim taboo. Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr., whom military authorities identified as the ringleader, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, demoted and dishonorably discharged from the Army.

At his court-martial in January, Graner said he was following orders, but top military officials, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and President Bush maintain that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was the work of a few rogue soldiers, not the result of Pentagon policy.

The pictures released last year and those at issue in Hellerstein's ruling were obtained by Specialist Joseph M. Darby, who gave them to military investigators. When they became public, the pictures sparked international outrage and intense anger in the Muslim world.

In undisclosed testimony obtained last year by The New York Times, Darby described how he collected the pictures from Graner in late 2003 before handing them over to military investigators in January 2004. Darby said he gave two CD-ROMS with the photos to investigators because he ''felt the pictures were morally wrong" and that Graner ''would abuse more prisoners" if he did not alert authorities.

Darby, who got death threats and was placed in protective custody, received the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award in Boston last month.

The Army's investigation of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal concluded that a small group of soldiers at the facility was responsible for most of the abuse, including arranging detainees in sexually explicit positions to be photographed, forcing male inmates to wear women's underwear, and at least one instance of a male guard having sex with a female detainee. Some groups are demanding a full, independent investigation -- which they say could reveal culpability farther up the chain of command.

William O. Beeman, a professor of anthropology and director of Middle East Studies at Brown, said that pictures of such humiliation could provide more fuel for Muslim anger. ''By stripping people naked and putting them in compromising situations, you are practically defining the most extreme immodesty that could possibly be seen," he said.

The ongoing ACLU freedom-of-information lawsuit, filed with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center of Constitutional Rights, has so far forced the government to provide more than 35,000 pages of documents pertaining to the treatment of US detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. It has documented allegations of abuse at several US facilities, including as many as 28 deaths of prisoners in US custody.

Beeman said the slow pace of the abuse investigation and the widespread perception that the US was not acting to bring higher-ranking officials to justice had damaged credibility in the region. ''At this point the rest of the world is prepared to believe almost anything," he said.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company