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Supreme Court vacates decision to release detainee abuse photos

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday vacated and remanded [order list, PDF] a decision [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] that required the Pentagon to release photos of abused detainees [JURIST news archive] in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Court remanded Dept. of Defense v. ACLU [docket] for further consideration under Section 565 of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010 [HR 2892, text]. The Act gives the Secretary of Defense the ability to prevent certain protected documents from being made public. Included in the definition of protected documents are photographs:

taken during the period beginning on September 11, 2001, through January 22, 2009; and relates to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile; JURIST news archive] exercised his authority [JURIST report] under the Act in November. Gates feared that the release of the photos would endanger American lives. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] vowed [press release] to continue to fight for the photos to be released.

The detainee abuse photos are now part of the records of the Department of Defense and the Department of the Army. In August, the Obama administration petitioned the US Supreme Court [JURIST report] to overturn the order to release the photos, alleging that this could lead to further violence in Iraq and Afghanistan that would endanger US civil and military personnel. In spite of its previous ruling, the Second Circuit ruled in June that the US government could continue to withhold photos [JURIST report] of alleged detainee abuse while it awaits a response from the Supreme Court. The original court mandate to release the photos came from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] challenge successfully brought by the ACLU in 2005.

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