The US Department of Defense has released 198 photos showing the effects of torture of Afghanistan and Iraqi prisoners held at facilities run by the military. But the photos, most taken between 2004 and 2009, are the least disturbing of the cache the Pentagon has. They are considered so "benign" that military officials do not believe their release will pose a security risk by inflaming anger against Americans.
The photos were finally released to comply with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2004. The photos show close-up images of cuts, bruises and swelling on prisoners' bodies. Prisoners' faces are obscured in the photos.
The horrific photo most associated with prisoner abuse is from the Abu Ghraib prison showing a detainee in a black hood, standing on a chair and hooked up to an electrical wire. News of the facility and torture there shocked the world in 2003 when that photo and others were obtained by Amnesty International and the Associated Press. Other photos then showed naked, hooded prisoners, detainees wearing dog collars and leashes, and shackled inmates threatened by dogs.
President Obama said other unreleased photos showed far more horrific torture in that facility and others run by by the CIA while Republican George W. Bush was in office, but he refused to release them fearing they would fuel fury against Americans. Pentagon officials said that the new batch of photos do not involve incidents at Abu Ghraib or at Guantanamo Bay.
The newly-released photos were part of a military investigation into torture. The Pentagon probe determined that around 14 allegations were substantiated and 42 unsubstantiated. "From those cases with substantiated allegations, 65 service members received some form of disciplinary action," a Defense Department spokesman told Newsweek. "The disciplinary actions ranged from letters of reprimand to life imprisonment, and of the 65 who received disciplinary action, 26 were convicted at courts-martial."
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the release of the less graphic photos, arguing against the government's belief that the photos could endanger US citizens and military personnel. Though he said the release of more disturbing images may require more time for consideration.
"I have reviewed some of these photographs, and I know that many of these photographs are relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration," he wrote. "Even if some of the photographs could prompt backlash that would harm Americans, it may be the case that the innocuous documents could be disclosed without endangering citizens, armed forces or employees of the United States."
The ACLU is continuing to fight to release all the photos, estimated to be close to 1,800, taken from 2001 to 2009. The photographs "refute the narrative embraced by the Bush administration and later President Obama, that military abuse was an aberration," argues Alex Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney, who noted that the photos were taken at at least seven different detention facilities throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.
Images that remain classified allegedly show scenes like a female soldier pretending to sodomize a naked prisoner with a broom and troops pointing guns at detainees as they lie with their hands tied and with hoods over their heads.