US blocks publication of detainee abuse photos

The US administration moved on Wednesday to block publication of photographs depicting abuse of detainees in US custody in Afghanistan and Iraq. The photographs were due to be released by 28 May 2009 under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation.

The administration’s decision in April to release the photos seemed to herald a step towards President Barack Obama’s promised commitment to transparency in government. On 13 May, however, the administration wrote to the federal judge overseeing the FOIA case to explain that it had changed its mind about the release of the photographs.

“Upon further reflection at the highest level of Government”, the US Justice Department’s letter states, “the Government has decided to pursue further options”, including but not limited to an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Amnesty International is urging the US administration to recognise that a U-turn on this issue sets it on a path not to a better future, but rather back towards past mistakes. The organization is urging the administration not to appeal to the US Supreme Court on this issue and to release the photographs as previously promised.