The American Civil Liberties Union, partnered with ABC News, NBC News, The New York Times and other news organizations, has sued the U.S. Department of Defense to release the 87 remaining and still-classified Abu Ghraib photos, along with four video tapes, under the Freedom of Information Act. In response, Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has testified that there is no new information to be gained from the release of the photographs in question, and that publishing the photographs would put American soldiers in danger. However, the public has the right to find out what happened – in America’s name – at Abu Ghraib. The media, which provides valuable government oversight, should be granted access to these photos and videos.
The ACLU has argued that releasing the pictures is necessary so that Americans can accurately judge “the scope of the abuse (at Abu Ghraib) and whether it could have been carried out without the knowledge of military leaders.” The scandal is a very visible stain on America’s human rights record, and it is important that the public be allowed to know the full extent of what went on in the prison. The federal judge hearing this case, who has seen the photos himself, has said that these new photos could be useful in assessing whether or not military leaders could have possibly not known the extent of the abuse occurring at the prison.
According to FOIA, the government is required to release such information, unless “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy and are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order.”
Using this logic, the Pentagon has suggested that because these pictures could endanger troops, they cannot be released. This argument is simply not convincing. The Abu Ghraib scandal is not new news; terrorist recruiters already have plenty of photos to use in propaganda. Unless these photos actually depict some new atrocities, which Myers has insisted they don’t, there is no reason to believe these photos will suddenly propel more young men to become jihadists.
Fundamentally, FOIA was enacted to help the media perform its role as an informal government oversight organization. From the muckrakers of the Progressive Era to Bob Woodward and Deep Throat, journalists have served the public by holding those in power accountable. These photos, which testify to grave atrocities committed by American soldiers in America’s name, cannot remain hidden.
The abuses committed at Abu Ghraib are contrary to the very principles the Founding Fathers enshrined in the Bill of Rights when they banned cruel and unusual punishment. They are contrary to the many declarations and conventions on human rights the United States has signed. They are contrary to the very notion of America being a pillar of liberty and a guardian of freedom. The federal judge hearing this case should rule in favor of the ACLU and in the interest of the American people. All those involved in this atrocity must be held responsible for their actions.