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U.S. Government Releases Photos of Detainee Abuse at U.S. Military Facilities

Obama Administration Continues to Hide Most Torture Evidence

For Immediate Release

The U.S. government today released 198 photos relating to detainee abuse at U.S. military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, but continued to withhold most of approximately 2,000 photos depicting prisoner ill-treatment that had been requested by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“These photos fail to show a single act of abuse which the government’s own records describe as having taken place,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, medical director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a party to the lawsuit seeking the release of the images.

“The failure to release virtually any image responsive to the ACLU’s request is tantamount to obstruction of justice. There was widespread and systematic torture and ill-treatment of detainees in military custody, as our investigations have previously shown. The release of those photos could shed light on one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history. The public has a right to see all the photos and to know what was done in its name.”

PHR said that the vast majority of released photos show indistinct images of bodies with no clinical or forensic value. There are a handful of images showing nonspecific injuries, including likely contusions, abrasions, and lacerations, but it is not possible to draw conclusions about whether detainee abuse occurred without corresponding clinical information. The photos also include mugshots, crime scenes, and soldiers apparently out on manoeuvers. PHR noted that the released photos do not include images of abuse known to be part of the 2,000 photos, such as pictures of detainees being beaten, stepped on, sexually humiliated, placed in stress positions, threatened with dogs, and subjected to simulated sodomy.

The 198 photos were released as part of a more than decade-long legal battle over records related to the treatment and death of detainees in U.S. custody after 9/11. The ACLU in 2003 filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the photos, followed by a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense in 2004. PHR documented the medical consequences of detainee torture at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in its landmark report “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” which revealed that torture took place in multiple places of detention over several years, and in response to orders from the military chain of command.

PHR pointed out that the Pentagon’s refusal to release all the images is part of an ongoing pattern of secrecy by the United States to avoid accountability for its illegal torture program. U.S. authorities have refused to release tapes of unlawful and unethical force-feeding practices at Guantánamo, to read and take action on the executive summary of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on CIA torture, and to declassify detainees’ own accounts of torture in the military commission cases at Guantánamo.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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Kevin Short

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