A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to disclose why they have withheld information on 2,100 graphic photos of military torture. The Obama administration has until early December to submit the reasoning for withholding these pieces of information.

By December 12th the Justice Department attorneys will have to list, photograph by photograph, why each of the images has been withheld from the public. Any actual release of the photographs will come after Judge Hellerstein reviews the government’s reasoning and issues another ruling in the transparency case.

Whilst the judge has left unclear how many of the images or the statements made by the Justice Department will be released to the public; the government’s argument is likely to be extensive. This will be the most detailed argument for secrecy over the imagery in a case that has lasted a decade.

“The only thing that bothers me is that we’re taking a lot of time,” Hellerstein told a nearly empty courtroom.

The issue which has been discussed at such length is the release of 2,100 photographs of abuse of detainees. This is despite the government’s continued vagueness on the actual number of images or the number of detainees who were abused. The pictures, which are being disputed, are said to be more disturbing than the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs that sparked a global outcry in 2004. The photographs are supposed to be available under a transparency suit which is being aggressively opposed currently by the US Congress and the Obama administrations as well as previously by the Bush administration. Fair warning the image below is graphic.


After taking office President Obama reversed his position on the new photos saying “they would “further inflame anti-American opinion and … put our troops in greater danger”. In 2009, Congress passed a law, the Protected National Security Documents Act, intended to aid the government in keeping the images from the public.

In August, Hellerstein stated that the government response was “overboard”. He has stated that after having seen some of the pictures behind closed doors that some “are relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration”. The disclosure of these photos will not come this year with the next hearing after December 12th scheduled for January.

With the US returning to Iraq to fight ISIS the response has once again been that releasing these photos would once again put American lives at risk in a war zone and act as a recruiting card for ISIS.

The potential release of these photos may coincide with another large government response to torture claims. The Senate intelligence committee is expected to soon unveil sections of its long-awaited investigation into CIA torture.

The release of these photos is not meant to embarrass the United States, nor the political parties, President Bush or President Obama and not even Congress. These photos need to be released to show accountability. When the America forces found that some of their prisoners of war had been water boarded, the now named “enhanced interrogation technique”, the men responsible for that war crime were executed by the United States government; yet now the tortured have become the torturers. How can the USA claim moral superiority if this has been allowed? How can they justify this heinous act?

These pictures need to be seen by the world so that we as a people can be informed about what a world leading government has done. We need to know because this should not be the way civilised nations behave. We need to know because the men and women who did this will forever be representative of us. That is not who I want representing me.