Civil libertarians are condemning a call by two influential U.S. senators for the White House to block the impending release of photographs showing detainees being abused by U.S. military personnel at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at other American detention facilities in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The plea to intervene to stop the expected May 28 release of the photos came in a letter Thursday to President Barack Obama from Senators Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham.
“The release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been clearly prohibited will serve no public good, but will empower al-Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country’s image, and endanger our men and women in uniform,” the Senators wrote.
Release of the photos is expected in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to fight the release of these old pictures of detainees in the war on terror, including appealing the decision of the Second Circuit in the ACLU lawsuit to the Supreme Court and pursuing all legal options to prevent the public disclosure of these pictures,” the senators wrote.
Senator Graham is a conservative Republican from South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee, and a military lawyer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Lieberman was a lifelong Democrat until he lost his party’s primary contest in 2006, after which he ran and won as an Independent from Connecticut. He is chairman of the powerful Senate Homeland Security Committee. The two senators were among the most ardent supporters of the recent unsuccessful presidential campaign of Senator John McCain.
Civil libertarians were virtually unanimous in their opposition to withholding the photographs.
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Gabor Rona, International Legal Director of Human Rights First, told us, ”Sen. Lieberman and Graham’s claims might carry more weight had the US government been consistently honest about the mistreatment it authorized. But as long as the American people are kept in the dark about what crimes were committed in their name, they cannot intelligently exercise their democratic right and obligation to call for corrective measures.”
He added, “To elevate fear of al-Qaeda’s reactions over faith in our democratic ideals and structures is unfortunate and counterproductive.”
Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyers Guild, told us, “The more evidence that emerges to document the Bush policy of torture and abuse, the more likely that investigations and prosecutions will take place.”
Professor Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois Law School told us, “The release of these photos will further document torture, abuse and other war crimes inflicted by U.S. military personnel in Iraq, the orders for which go all the way up the military chain of command to the Commander in Chief President Bush, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, none of whom has yet been held accountable.”