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Congress Helps DoD Hide Torture Photos

House and Senate members today approved language for a homeland security appropriations bill that would give the Pentagon the right to continue withholding photos of the abuse of detainees in its custody, the ACLU reported on Wednesday.

The ACLU has been trying to get its hands on those photos, as well as other records, since 2003 through the Freedom of Information Act, which is supposed to make them public. But the Bush administration objected, and the ACLU’s been litigating the issue ever since. Although President Obama at first promised to turn over the photos, he later changed his mind, and despite two court orders to turn them over, the administration has still so far refused. It’s appealed the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is supposed to decide whether to hear the case on October 9.

Some members of Congress, however, are not prepared to leave it to the courts to decide. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has introduced an amendment to the appropriations bill that would allow the defense department to exempt the photos of abuse from the scope of the Freedom of Information law.

Here’s part of the response from Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project, from a statement released on Wednesday:

Congress should not give the government the authority to hide evidence of its own misconduct, and if it does grant that authority, the Secretary of Defense should not invoke it. If this shameful provision passes, Secretary Gates should take into account the importance of transparency to the democratic process, the extraordinary importance of these photos to the ongoing debate about the treatment of prisoners, and the likelihood that the suppression of these photos will ultimately be far more damaging to our national security than their disclosure would be.

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