May 29th, 2009
12:50 PM ET
9 years ago

WH to ask high court to review release of detainee abuse photos

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Obama administration is turning to the Supreme Court as it seeks to block public release of photos apparently depicting abuse of suspected terrorists and foreign soldiers in U.S. custody.

Justice Department lawyers late Thursday told a federal appeals court in New York - the same one on which high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor sits - to hold off a ruling ordering release of the material, saying they plan to ask the justices to hear their case.

The government said it would proceed "absent intervening legislation" from Congress.

The "motion to recall" comes after President Barack Obama ordered government lawyers earlier this month to object to the court-ordered release of photos depicting the mistreatment of prisoners held in Iraq and Afghanistan, reversing an earlier White House decision. The Pentagon had been set to release hundreds of photos in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU - which had filed the initial lawsuit for disclosure - has criticized the administration's about-face, saying it "makes a mockery" of Obama's campaign promise of greater transparency and accountability, and damages efforts to hold accountable those responsible for abusing prisoners.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last September the photos must be released. The president now says doing so "would pose an unacceptable risk of danger to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq." Sotomayor has served on that court since 1998, but was not involved in that particular appeal.

The Senate last week voted for the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act, which would limit the reach of the Freedom of Information Act in this instance. The House could adopt a similar provision next month, as part of an omnibus spending bill.

The government has until June 9 to file its initial appeal with the Supreme Court.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan - herself a finalist for the upcoming high court vacancy - told the New York-based appeals court that if Congress passes the disclosure amendment, Defense Secretary Robert Gates could "preclude release under (the Freedom of Information Act ) of the photographs at issue in this case."

In court documents filed earlier this week Gen. David Petraeus - the top U.S. commander in the region - argued public access would have a "destabilizing effect" on Pakistan and other U.S. partners in the battle against the al Qaeda terrorist network.

"Newly released photos depicting abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody in Afghanistan and Iraq would negatively affect the ongoing efforts by Pakistan to counter its internal extremist threat," wrote Petraeus, the chief of U.S. Central Command.

U.S. allies in the region already "struggle with their populations' perceptions that they are merely instruments of the U.S. government and do not have their citizens' best interests at heart," and releasing the images "would likely deal a particularly hard blow" to American efforts in those countries, he stated.

He predicted a likely result of the photos' release would be "civil unrest via spontaneous demonstrations in Pakistan's largest cities."

Forty-four photos are covered in the ACLU request for release, but others could be released under the earlier appeals court ruling.

The justices would be under time pressure to decide whether to accept the government's appeal for review, before the court recesses for the summer in late June. They would not return until late September, when Sotomayor would join them if confirmed.

The case is ACLU v. Department of Defense (06-3140).

Filed under: Obama administration • Supreme Court
soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Kevin in Ohio

    Obama, on this issue, is 100% correct. When will the ACLU and NYT start putting our country first instead of their own liberal agenda?

    May 29, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  2. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    We believe that the photos and ALL documents relating to Bush & DICK sanctioned torture should be released. So that we, the People, can see for ourselves what horrors have been done in our name!

    And for those who will say "torture saved us from another attack!"

    I say....... statistics show that the chances of an American dying in a terrorist attack is....... (drumroll)...... ONE...... in 9.3 million!

    However, every day...... every day........ 2,500 Americans die of heart disease!

    May 29, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  3. didi


    May 29, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  4. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    I'm a democrat, but I support the President's decision not wanting these photos released. Releasing those photos will incite anti-American sentiment in the Arab world and put our troops in danger. I'm all for transparancy too, but not at the risk of our men and women in harm's way. DO NOT RELEASE ANY PHOTOS. As if the photos that we've already seen aren't bad enough. It's a despicable thing to see and I can see how that can be used to the enemies advantage to kill our troops and disrupt the peace process in the entire region.

    May 29, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  5. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    Would these photos be any better or worse than a Freddie Kruger movie? Released or unreleased, these photos will not vary the opinions of those against whom we fight eiterh physically or politically

    Don't ya think that our enemies are already doing the maximum to harm us anyway?

    May 29, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  6. Obama Victim

    Hey – let's ask Sotomayer what SHE would recommend!!

    Should Obama release the photos or not, Ms Sotomayer??

    May 29, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  7. katiec

    I really do not see what the release of these photos will accomplish. It will further support the worlds view of do as I say, not as I do
    mentallity of the previous administration.
    The majority of American people do not support torture and these
    pictures will be disturbing for everyone. What our leaders allowed to happen is against the Geneva Convention and honor, and we do
    not need to expose further proof of our wrong doings.
    We are striving to bring our United States of America back to the status we once had and do not need more of the past to drag us

    May 29, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  8. New Yorker

    It's quite clear that the ACLU's main objective is to destroy this country in whatever way they can.

    May 29, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  9. donttreadonme

    I knew it wouldn't be long until the very liberals who helped elect Obama would turn on them.

    May 29, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  10. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    Why is Obama kicking this can down the road, when many lawyers think he will be ordered to release the photos no matter what the military or some ragtag jihadists think of them. This case is a profile in weakness and weaselling by The One.

    May 29, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  11. Chi Town

    No matter how this goes down... it's bad for the country.

    You release them it's bad... you don't it's bad...

    Double edged sword for sure

    May 29, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  12. carlo

    I've read that some fo the pictures shows sexual abuse of children. If that's so, they definitely shouldn't show them. That would be a disaster for our troops right now.

    May 29, 2009 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  13. Bob of Lompoc

    It's getting warmer by the day. Who do you think will roll first – Bush, Cheney, Rice, Gonzalez. ? The sweat puddles are getting larger.

    May 29, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  14. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    Even the ACLU says: "it "makes a mockery" of Obama's campaign promise of greater transparency"

    Add this to the list of broken promises. A number of web sites are now tracking his kept and broken promises, since Umbama and his misty eyed supporters have an astoundingly short memory.

    I know there will some comments here like "what broken promises, where?" Spend about 3 more brain cells and 5 more seconds and look for yourself.

    May 29, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  15. Fair is Fair

    I simply cannot understand why the ACLU is hell bent on putting soldiers lives in jeopardy. So okay, libs... looks like the choice comes down to what the ACLU wants and what Obama and his advisors want. What do you choose?

    May 29, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  16. Manoy777

    ACLU needs to MOVE ON!!!

    Everyone already knows what happened in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq... NO NEED TO INCITE...
    I do believe that these pictures will only give Al Qaeda more substance to use for recruiting and inspiring Muslims to join their maligned and wicked cause.

    May 29, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |

    Mirrors, mirrors on the wall who is the greatest "CZAR" of them all ?
    and the answer is: Obama of course the savior of all....puting down
    country first prioity...perhaps he will invite the Terrorists to the WH tea party...Next in Egypt he will pay tribute saying: :viva to them and down with the USA" !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 29, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  18. Bo

    ACLU. They don't care about the men and women defending their rights. All they care about is lining their own pockets. They rather see an American service memeber killed by terriorist, then keep the already explosive photo a secret.

    What purpose will get out of seeing photos that have been seen on Iraq? and we all know what happen, when those photos were released.

    ALCU only cares about themseleves. Eff the what their saying

    May 29, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  19. Mike in Fairfax

    "Wait!! I know!! Let's get these other guys to tell us we HAVE to release them..!! Yeah.. that's the ticket!!!"

    May 29, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  20. Dawn in Pa

    I know that a lot of the bloggers will be saying transparency... THINK, understandably, our soldiers could be in danger, is our soldiers would be captured, they could torture them or maybe killed. I think that after the war, yeah, but not now.
    Remember what everyone has been saying that Obama is making our country less safe, if they are released what could happen, our country would really be vulnerable to another attack.

    Obama has a lot on his plate, Hurricanes, 2 wars, economy, jobs, threats by North Korea and Iran. Israel and the Palestinians, the Middle East and Israel. How would you like to be President at this time.

    May 29, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  21. Rob

    Guess the libs and Code Pink freaks ain't gonna be too happy about this

    May 29, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  22. Lisa in Shelton CT

    The ACLU may cry "mockery" but if the Freedom of Information act has any teeth and I believe it does – the ACLU will be able to have all those photos to chew on before long. Brilliant legal professor Obama may not want the unseemly appearance of being an attack dog against the former potentially criminal administration, and by holding back he can maintain an, "I tried to stop it" stance and yet allow the High Court and justice to prevail with the ACLU taking the hit for being a single minded foe of the Republican agenda.

    May 29, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  23. Tim

    This can all be easily settled if Obama would actually take a stand for once. He has the power to block the release. If he doesn't want them blocked, then he should say so.

    He is a coward.

    May 29, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  24. JonDie

    The commission of crimes by US soldiers needs to be exposed...even if those individuals, acting on the illegal orders of the US president and his henchmen, are not going to be prosecuted.

    May 29, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  25. Pee Wee

    He needs to stand by his decision to not release them. This is just punting and kicking the can down the road. Or, voting "present", if you will.

    May 29, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
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