NEW YORK – A federal judge has told the government it will have to release additional pictures of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib (search) prison, civil rights lawyers said.
Judge Alvin Hellerstein (search), finding the public has a right to see the pictures, told the government Thursday he will sign an order requiring it to release them to the American Civil Liberties Union, the lawyers said.
The judge made the decision after he and government attorneys privately viewed a sampling of nine pictures resulting from an Army probe into abuse and torture at the prison. The pictures were given to the Army by a military policeman assigned there.
ACLU (search) lawyer Megan Lewis told the judge she believes the government has pictures of abuse beyond the Abu Ghraib images that sparked outrage around the world after they were leaked to the media last year.
Some of the thousands of pages of documents the government has released to the ACLU seem to refer to such images, and the government has not denied that additional photos exist, she said.
The judge decided some pictures from Abu Graib could be released to comply with the Freedom of Information Act while others must be redacted or were not relevant to the ACLU's request, Lewis said.
She said the judge's findings likely would clear the way for the release of other pictures of detainees taken around the world by U.S. authorities.
"I do think they could be extremely upsetting and depict conduct that would outrage the American public and be truly horrifying," she said outside court.
The judge ordered the transcript of comments made during his viewing of the pictures sealed. He did not disclose his findings in court, but said his order "will lead to production (of the pictures) or further proceedings."
"Further proceedings" presumably referred to possible appeals by government lawyers, who declined to comment as they left the hearing. A message left with a government spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
Before viewing the pictures, the judge said in court that he thought "photographs present a different level of detail and are the best evidence the public can have of what occurred."
Government lawyer Sean Lane argued that releasing pictures, even if faces and other features are obscured, would violate Geneva Convention rules on prisoner treatment by subjecting detainees to additional humiliation or embarrassment. He said the emotional wounds would be reopened because detainees could identify themselves and because the public would learn their identities.
The judge, however, said, "I don't believe with suitable redaction there is an unwarranted invasion of privacy." He also said he didn't think it was likely that detainees in redacted photos would be able to be identified.
The judge's decision stems from a lawsuit the ACLU filed in October 2003 seeking information on treatment of detainees in U.S. custody and the transfer of prisoners to countries known to use torture. The ACLU contends that prisoner abuse is systemic.
So far, 36,000 pages of documents and the reports of 130 investigations, mostly from the FBI and Army, have been turned over to the ACLU. The group is seeking documents from the CIA and the Defense Department as well.