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Second Circuit rules government must release photos of Iraqi, Afghan prisoners

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [decision, PDF] Monday that the US Department of Defense [official website] must release certain photographs of alleged detainee abuse committed by US soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy websites] and other civil rights groups sought the release [CCR backgrounder] of the photographs under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text], but the government had claimed that the photos were exempt from disclosure because their release would either invade the privacy of the detainees or insight retaliation against US forces abroad. The Second Circuit held that redactions of the photographs ordered by a lower court sufficiently protected the detainees' privacy, and that safety exemptions to disclosure requirements were intended to cover reasonable safety risks to specific individuals rather than to any member of a larger group:

We hold that in order to justify withholding documents... an agency must identify at least one individual with reasonable specificity and establish that disclosure of the documents could reasonably be expected to endanger that individual. We need not shape the precise contours of the exemption today, as it is not a close question whether the government has identified any relevant individual with reasonable specificity. It is plainly insufficient to claim that releasing documents could reasonably be expected to endanger some unspecified member of a group so vast as to encompass all United States troops, coalition forces, and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. The structure of FOIA and the applicable legislative history, both of which contemplate a far narrower role for [the exemption] than that envisioned by the defendants, amply confirm our holding.
Governmental secrecy and the scope of the FOIA have been issues of frequent disagreement between the US government and rights groups in recent years. In July, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit rejected [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a Bush administration appeal against a 2007 order [PDF text] requiring that White House visitor logs be released in under the FOIA. In June, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the FOIA does not require the National Security Agency (NSA) [JURIST news archive] to tell lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees whether it has used electronic surveillance methods to monitor their communications. Earlier this month, advocacy group OpenTheGovernment.org [advocacy website] issued a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] finding that government secrecy continued to increase in 2007.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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