Officials See Risk in the Release of Images of Iraq Prisoner Abuse
New York Times | August 11, 2005
By JULIA PRESTON
Senior Pentagon officials have opposed the release of photographs and videotapes of the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, arguing that they 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.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement put forth to support the Pentagon's case that he believed that "riots, violence and attacks by insurgents will result" if the images were released.
The papers were filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan in an ongoing lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union to obtain under the Freedom of Information Act the release of 87 photos and four videotapes taken at Abu Ghraib. The photos were among those turned over to Army investigators last year by Specialist Joseph M. Darby, a reservist who was posted at Abu Ghraib.
The documents reveal both the high level and the determination of the Pentagon officials engaged in the effort to block disclosure of the images, and their alarm at the prospect that the photos might become public.
In his statement, dated July 21, General Myers said he became aware on June 17 that a release might be imminent. He 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 American forces in Iraq. Both officers also opposed the release, General Myers said.
His statement makes it clear that he has examined the images and finds them disturbing.
"I condemn in the strongest terms the misconduct and abuse depicted in these images," General Myers said in the statement. "It was illegal, immoral and contrary to American values and character."
Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein authorized the A.C.L.U. yesterday to make public papers it filed on Aug. 3 contesting the Pentagon argument that the images must be withheld because they put individuals at risk. The A.C.L.U. said the government was seeking to withhold the photos only "to avert adverse reaction," undermining the information act.
The A.C.L.U.'s papers drew attention to the Pentagon's filings, which had been unsealed last week.
"The situation on the ground in Iraq is dynamic and dangerous," General Myers said, with 70 insurgent attacks daily. He also said there was evidence that the Taliban, though still weak, was gaining ground because of popular discontent in Afghanistan.
General Myers cited the violence that erupted in some Muslim countries in May after Newsweek published an item, 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 campaigns.
"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.