New Abuse Photos
Could Spark Riots, US General Warns
By William Fisher
18 August, 2005
Inter Press Service
libertarians and the Pentagon appear headed for yet another trainwreck
in the ongoing dispute over the so-called second batch of photos from
Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In response to a
lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Centre for
Constitutional Rights (CCR), and a number of medical and veterans groups
demanding release of 87 new videos and photographs depicting detainee
abuse at the now infamous prison, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said the release would result in riots,
violence and attacks by insurgents.
In court papers
filed to contest the lawsuit, Gen. Myers said he consulted with Gen.
John P. Abizaid, head of the United States Central Command, and Gen.
George W. Casey Jr., the commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq. Both
officers also opposed the release, Gen. Myers said.
He believes the
release of the photos would incite public opinion in the Muslim
world and put the lives of American soldiers and officials at risk,
according to documents unsealed in federal court in New York.
on the ground in Iraq is dynamic and dangerous, Myers added, with
70 insurgent attacks daily. He also said there was evidence that the
Taliban was gaining ground because of popular discontent in Afghanistan.
Gen. Myers cited
the violence that erupted in some Muslim countries in May after Newsweek
published an item, which it later retracted, saying that a Koran had
been thrown in a toilet in the United States detention center in Guantánamo
Bay, Cuba. He also said the images could fuel terrorist disinformation
It is probable
that Al Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos
as grist for their propaganda mill, which will result in, besides violent
attacks, increased terrorist recruitment, continued financial support
and exacerbation of tensions between Iraqi and Afghani populaces and
U.S. and coalition forces, he said.
The 87 new
photos and four videotapes taken at Abu Ghraib were among those turned
over to Army investigators last year by Specialist Joseph M. Darby,
a reservist who was posted at the prison.
In legal papers
unsealed last week, the ACLU and its allied groups urged the court to
order the release of photographs and videos, and also asked the court
to reject the government's attempt to file some of its legal arguments
It said that until
the first photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib were made public in
April 2004, the government had consistently denied that any wrongdoing
had taken place, despite news reports to the contrary. Since then, the
ACLU has obtained, through a court order, more than 60,000 pages of
government documents regarding torture and abuse of detainees.
At a court hearing
on Monday, the judge said he generally ruled in favour of public disclosure
and ordered the government to reveal some redacted parts of its argument
for blocking the release of pictures and videotapes.
U.S. District Judge
Alvin K. Hellerstein said his rulings pertained to arguments by Gen.
Myers. By and large, I ruled in favour of public disclosure,
The judge said he
believes photographs are the best evidence the public can have
of what occurred at the prison.
He scheduled arguments
on the question of whether the photographs and videos should be released
for Aug. 30, saying a speedy decision is important so the public's right
to know isn't compromised.
The ACLU has also
called for an independent counsel with subpoena power to investigate
the torture scandal, including the role of senior policymakers, and
has filed a separate lawsuit to hold Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
and high-ranking military officers accountable.
Reed Brody, head
of international programmes for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS,
The problem is not the photos but the policy of abuse. The release
of the first photos last year led us to the revelations that senior
U.S. officials had secretly sidelined the Geneva Conventions, re-defined
'torture', and approved illegal coercive interrogation methods.
of new photos showing crimes perpetrated on detainees could create new
impetus to expose and prosecute those ultimately responsible and hopefully
prevent these practices from being repeated.
president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, noted that, The
administration's response to the release of the photos is to kill the
messenger, rather then to investigate and prosecute the real culprits:
Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld, Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales, Generals
Miller and Sanchez, and others.
He agreed that the
photos will be upsetting to anyone who cares about humane treatment
and particularly to those in the Muslim world, but the photos reflect
the reality of the type of treatment detainees were subjected to.
suppress the best evidence of widespread torture of Muslim detainees,
the Administration ought to launch a fully independent investigation
and ought to see that an independent prosecutor is appointed,
Ratner told IPS.
He added, Ensuring
accountability for the torture conspiracy is the best way of demonstrating
to the Muslim world that this outrage has come to an end and will not
The government initially
objected to the release of the images on the grounds that it would violate
the Geneva Conventions rights of the detainees depicted in the images.
That concern was addressed by court order on Jun. 1 directing the government
to redact any personally identifying characteristics from the images.
The ACLU did not object to those redactions.
The ACLU said the
government has repeatedly taken the position that the detainees themselves
cannot rely on the Geneva Conventions in legal proceedings to challenge
their mistreatment by U.S. personnel.
In a court declaration,
former U.S. Army Colonel Michael E. Pheneger, a retired military intelligence
expert, responded to the government's cause-and-effect argument
that release of the images would spark violence abroad.
seek to prevent the United States from achieving its objectives in the
Middle East, he said. They do not need specific provocations
to justify their actions.
Attacks by insurgents
will continue regardless of whether the photos and tapes are released,
The case arose from
a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the ACLU,
the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans
for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace.
© 2005 IPS - Inter Press Service