Releasing photos and videotapes of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison would aid al Qaeda recruitment, weaken governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and incite riots against U.S. troops, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned in court papers.
The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking the release of 87 photographs and four videotapes taken at the prison as part of a lawsuit it filed in October 2003.
Gen. Richard B. Myers wrote in recently unsealed court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that it was "probable that al Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill."
The ACLU complaint seeks information on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody and the transfer of prisoners to countries known to use torture. It also contends that prisoner abuse is systemic.
The government submitted an additional request to the court Friday arguing that some information in its court papers that remains blacked out should not be made public.
In a response to the arguments by Myers, the ACLU submitted a declaration by retired Army Col. Michael E. Pheneger, who said Myers "mistakes propaganda for motivation."
Pheneger, a military intelligence officer from 1963 to 1993, said that Iraqi insurgents average 70 attacks a day and that they "will continue regardless of whether the photos and tapes are released."
Pheneger said he thinks that releasing the photos would lead to a thorough public examination of the administration's decision to approve interrogation techniques that the Army had long prohibited.
"The first step to abandoning practices that are repugnant to our laws and national ideals is to bring them into the sunshine and assign accountability," he wrote.
Myers said his views about the pictures are supported by Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the commander of the American forces in Iraq.
An investigation into the abuse depicted on the pictures continues, Myers said.
"I condemn in the strongest terms the misconduct and abuse depicted in these images," he said. "It was illegal, immoral and contrary to American values and character."
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who will decide whether to release blacked-out versions of the pictures and videotapes, has said photographs "are the best evidence the public can have of what occurred" at the prison.