Thursday, August 28, 2014

Photos and military justice

Those who follow military justice (and many who don't) will of course recall the various courts-martial that flowed from the scandalous treatment of Iraqi prisoners of the United States at Abu Ghraib. Indeed, one of the photos documenting the mistreatment (left) has achieved iconic status. Meanwhile, there has been continuing litigation in federal court in New York City concerning access to the numerous Abu Ghraib images that the Defense Department has refused to release. Now Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein is addressing whether, with the passage of time, the withheld photos can continue to be withheld. The Hill reports:
"Given the passage of time, I have no basis for concluding either that the disclosure of photographs depicting the abuse or mistreatment of prisoners would affect United States military operations at this time, or that it would not," the judge wrote. 
The Defense Department argues the law only requires the secretary to certify that the disclosure of the photos would harm U.S. citizens abroad. But the judge said the text is ambiguous and concluded the law allows for the court to determine if the secretary's decision is correct.  
The judge also found that the Defense Department must evaluate each photo individually, saying that some photos appeared harmless. 
"I have reviewed some of these photographs and I know that many of these photographs are relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration," the judge wrote.
Parallel issues exist concerning the withholding of photos of Marine snipers urinating on dead Afghanis. International Humanitarian Law mavens are probably also thinking about photography lately, given the ubiquitous images of a parade of captured Ukrainian military personnel through the streets of Donetsk. Radio Free Europe | Radio Liberty's Carl Schreck has this article under the headline "Donetsk POW March: When Is A Parade A War Crime?"

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