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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK
Abu Ghraib images 'must appear'
Lynndie England pointing at the genitals of prisoners (AP Photo/Courtesy of  The New Yorker)
The images shocked the world (AP Photo/Courtesy of The New Yorker)
A judge in New York has ruled that pictures of Iraqi inmates abused by US troops should be released.

The judge made the order after a request by the American Civil Liberties Union for access to 87 unseen images.

District Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected government arguments that this could fuel anti-US feelings.

Pictures of Iraqi inmates being abused at Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad last year have caused an outcry around the world. Several US soldiers have been jailed.

The ruling represents a huge potential embarrassment for the US administration, says the BBC's Jeremy Cooke in New York.

The government has 20 days to consider an appeal.

In a first reaction, the head of US Central Command, General John Abizaid, said publication of more pictures could distort reality.

"When we continue to pick at the wound and show the pictures over and over again it just creates the image - which is a false image - that this is the sort of stuff that's happening anew, and it's not," Gen Abizaid said.

However, the US commander in charge of Abu Ghraib at the time of the scandal said concerns that the images could trigger an upsurge in violence should not be overplayed.

"Certainly I would be concerned but I would be equally concerned... that the pictures had not been released and you allow then any opposition to say 'but there is more'," Janis Karpinski told the BBC's Today programme.

Karpinski was reduced in rank from general to colonel and found guilty of dereliction of duty. She says she has been made a "scapegoat".

Transparency versus blackmail

The Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) demanded the release of 87 photographs and four videotapes as part of a lawsuit launched in 2003 on the treatment of detainees in US custody and the transfer of prisoners to countries known to use torture.

They say prisoner abuse is systemic.

The US government argued that pictures of the abuse should stay hidden to avoid helping the insurgents.

It is "probable that al-Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill", the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Richard Myers, argued in court papers.

Charles Graner standing behind a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib (Picture courtesy of The New Yorker)
Our struggle to prevail must be without sacrificing the transparency and accountability of government and military officials
Judge Hellerstein's ruling

But in his 50-page ruling, the judge said: "My task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government.

"Our struggle to prevail must be without sacrificing the transparency and accountability of government and military officials," he added.

Judge Hellerstein said America "does not surrender to blackmail, and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument to prevent us from performing a statutory command.

"Indeed, the freedoms that we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which our troops are armed."

The photographs released last year showed Iraqi prisoners being physically and sexually abused or humiliated.

The images at the centre of the fresh legal battle are believed to have been taken by the same soldier as the original set.

All senior US commanders have so far been cleared of any crime. Nine junior soldiers have been convicted - some are serving jail sentences.


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