By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Nearly two years after graphic photographs of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were published worldwide, the U.S. government yesterday for the first time authenticated 74 of the images as being part of the original compact disc that was turned over to Army investigators in January 2004.
Responding to a federal court order as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, Justice Department lawyers wrote in court papers that the previously published images "are identical" to those that investigators have used to look into abuse at the prison. Included among the images are such photos as Pvt. Lynndie R. England holding a leash attached to a naked detainee's neck, a detainee with female underwear placed on his head, detainees shackled to cell doors and beds in painful positions, and others piled in a naked pyramid. The iconic photograph of a detainee standing on a cardboard box, cloaked and hooded with wires coming from his hands, is also among the pictures.
The government, however, did not authenticate numerous photographs of soldiers using dogs to intimidate detainees, though military prosecutors have used such images in open court while pursuing cases against the soldiers.
Many of the photos, or representative samples of them, have been published in The Washington Post and on washingtonpost.com over the past two years. Salon.com, an Internet magazine, recently published the photographs on its Web site after obtaining what appeared to be the Army's compilation of abuse photos used to prosecute low-ranking soldiers. The government also authenticated three short video clips. The original disc was given to Army investigators by a soldier concerned by the abuse that he saw in photos.
Avoiding an actual government release of the images, Justice Department lawyers instead authenticated photographs that were already up on the Salon Web site, using court papers to refer to the images by number. ACLU lawyers were also provided with one additional photograph -- which appears to be two detainees with their arms around each other and their faces edited out of the image -- and the government declined to provide an additional 29 photographs that ACLU lawyers said they are going to fight to see.
None of the photographs the government authenticated indicates any unknown instances of abuse. Hundreds of other photos -- seized from soldiers' computers in Iraq -- appear to show abuse but have not been authenticated by U.S. officials.
"Our aim was to get this information into the public domain, and the government's attempts at withholding this information have proved futile," said Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer pursuing the lawsuit. "This is a victory for us because information to which the public is entitled has been released into the public domain. The government has fought this tooth and nail."
Defense Department officials, including top generals, have opposed releasing the images, arguing that they could set off major unrest in Muslim nations. The images a federal judge in New York ordered the government to release, it turns out, largely were the same images that already have been published.