April 24, 2009 in Nation/World

Obama to release photos of alleged prisoner abuse

Peter Wallsten, Julian E. Barnes And Greg Miller Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration agreed late Thursday to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years.

The decision will make public for the first time photos obtained in military investigations at facilities other than the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Forty four pictures that the American Civil Liberties Union was seeking in a court case, plus a “substantial number” of other images, will be released by May 28.

The photos, examined by Air Force and Army criminal investigators, are apparently not as shocking as those taken at Abu Ghraib, which became a symbol of U.S. mistakes in Iraq. But Defense officials nevertheless are concerned that the release could incite another backlash in the Middle East.

Some of the photos show military service members intimidating or threatening detainees by pointing weapons at them, according to officials who have seen them. Military officers have been court-martialed for threatening detainees at gunpoint.

“This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush administration’s claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational,” said Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the ACLU, which obtained the agreement as part of a long-running legal battle for documents related to Bush-era anti-terror policies.

The photo release decision comes as President Barack Obama is trying to quell a drive to investigate Bush-era anti-terror practices, which was spurred in part by the release last week of Justice Department memos detailing the Bush administration’s legal justifications for harsh interrogations. But now the photos and a series of other possible disclosures stemming from the ACLU lawsuit threaten to fuel the controversy.

Additional disclosures to be considered in the coming weeks include transcripts of detainee interrogations by the CIA, a CIA inspector general’s report that has been kept mostly secret, and background materials of a Justice Department internal investigation into prisoner abuse.

In each instance, Obama and his administration are being forced to decide whether to release material entirely, disclose it with redactions or follow the lead of the Bush administration and fight in court to keep the material classified.

Last week, Obama opted to demand relatively few redactions in the Justice Department memos.

With Obama trying to navigate ambitious health, tax and environment legislation through Congress, the White House rejected the idea of appointing its own 9/11 Commission-style review of President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policies, according to an official, fearing it could become a partisan distraction.

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