The photos were released as a result of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is pressing the Pentagon to release an entire trove of about 2,000 photos.
The photos released today were taken by independent criminal investigators looking into 56 allegations of mistreatment and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009, according to the Department of Defense. Of the substantiated cases, 65 service members received disciplinary action ranging from letters of reprimand to life imprisonment – including 26 who were convicted at courts-martial, he said.
“The disclosure of these photos is long overdue, but the photos released today are nearly certainly the most innocuous of the 2,000 that were being withheld”, Eliza Relman, a paralegal with the ACLU National Security Project, said in a blog post on the group’s website.
“The still-secret pictures are the best evidence of the serious abuses that took place in military detention centers”, said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer. “The government’s selective disclosure risks misleading the public about the true extent of the abuse”.
Numerous photos were grainy, showing sections of the body where detainees alleged USA troops harmed them.
The images were released under freedom of information laws after a decade-long battle by ACLU, which saw a new legal loophole carved out by Congress in order to keep the pictures hidden. The three-year reviews are required by the Protected National Security Documents Act of 2009, which states the DOD is required to determine whether the release of the images would endanger national security.
The abuse appears much less severe than that seen in photos of alleged torture victims at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in the early years of that war, including images of naked detainees stacked in a human pyramid or of a soldier holding a naked detainee by a dog collar and leash.
To justify its withholdings, the government cites a general fear that exposing the misconduct of government personnel may incite others to violence against Americans and US interests.
“But the scandal is that no senior official has been held accountable or even investigated for the systemic abuse of detainees”, Abdo said in a statement.
“They were just a small part” of the “torture by the United States government”, added his side in another statement Naureen Shah of Amnesty International. Multiple rulings have suggested that the federal government may have to release the photos, but the federal government has appealed at every turn. Leon E. Panetta, Gates’ successor as defense secretary, extended it in 2012, and the current Pentagon chief, Ash Carter, extended it again in November, but decided that the 198 photos could be made public.