The US must release photographs showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, a federal judge has ruled in a long-running clash over letting the world see potentially disturbing images of how the military treated prisoners. US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein's ruling yesterday gives the government, which has fought the case for over a decade, two months to decide whether to appeal before the photos could be released. The American Civil Liberties Union has been seeking to make the photos, including images from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, public in the name of holding government accountable. "The photos are crucial to the public record," says Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. "They're the best evidence of what took place in the military's detention centers."
The Defense Department is studying the ruling and will make any further responses in court, a spokesman says. The fight over the photographs reaches back to the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it invokes the images of abuse at Abu Ghraib that sparked international outrage after they emerged in 2004 and 2006. The government has said it has 29 relevant pictures from at least seven different sites in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it's believed to have perhaps hundreds or thousands more, Hellerstein said in a ruling in August. He said some photos he had seen "are relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration," and he has ruled that any images that would be released would be redacted to protect the identities of people in them. (See how Iraq's prison's gave birth to Syrian extremists.)