White House "Ordered" Lawmakers to Amend FOIA in Order to Conceal Torture Photos

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By GottaLaff

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My bff Jason Leopold has written up another well-researched, thorough piece over at Truthout, his new digs. This one is about how President Obama is close to signing, sealing, and delivering a lock on the torture photos he had earlier agreed to release:

The Obama administration will likely drop its Supreme Court petition challenging the release of photographs showing US soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan now that lawmakers are set to pass legislation authorizing the government to continue to keep the images under wraps.

On Thursday, the House approved a Department of Homeland Security spending bill that included a provision to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and grant Defense Secretary Robert Gates the authority to withhold "protected documents" that, if released, would endanger the lives of US soldiers or government employees deployed outside of the country.

According to the bill, the phrase "protected documents" refers to photographs taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009, and involves "the treatment of individuals engaged, captured or detained" in the so-called "war on terror." Photographs that Gates determines would endanger troops and government employees could be withheld for three years.

The legislation now heads to the Senate for a vote, which is expected to take place as early as Thursday. Obama indicated he would swiftly sign the bill into law when it passes. [...]

Civil libertarians and advocates of open government, however, were sharply critical of lawmakers - and the Obama administration - for covering up what they said were serious crimes by allowing the provision, the Protected National Security Documents Act of 2009, to be included in the bill.

"It is disturbing that the House would pass legislation that so blatantly undermines the Freedom of Information Act," said Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office. "Authorizing the suppression of evidence of human rights abuses perpetrated by government personnel directly contradicts Congress's oversight obligations." [...]

The Obama administration indicated earlier this year it would abide by a court order and release at least 44 of the photographs in question, but President Obama backtracked, saying he had conferred with high-ranking military officials who advised him that releasing the images would stoke anti-American sentiment and would endanger the lives of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. [...]

According to the petition and other documents, the photographs at issue include one in which a female solider is pointing a broom at a detainee "as if [she were] sticking the end of a broomstick into [his] rectum."

Other photos are said to show US soldiers pointing guns at the heads of hooded and bound detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. [...]

Obama's decision to conceal the photos marks an about-face on the open-government policies that he proclaimed during his first days in office.

On January 21, Obama signed an executive order instructing all federal agencies and departments to "adopt a presumption in favor" of Freedom of Information Act requests, and promised to make the federal government more transparent.

"The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears," Obama's order said. "In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public."

These photos are needed as evidence. Fayiz al-Kandari and his lawyer, Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, are not allowed access to photos that prove that Fayiz was tortured. So much for transparency and a just legal system.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York):

"I believe that we had turned a page from the cloud of suspicion and secrecy that marked the previous administration," Slaughter said. "It runs so counter to our principals and stated desire to reject the abuses of the past. The FOIA laws in this country form a pillar of our First Amendment principles."

Slaughter said in her floor statement that the provision to amend FOIA was stripped from an earlier version of the bill, but the language was quietly reinserted in recent weeks "apparently under direct orders from the administration."

"We should never do anything to circumvent FOIA, and I believe that our country would gain more by coming to terms with the past than we would by covering it up," Slaughter said. "I hope that the president will follow judicial rulings and consider voluntarily releasing these photos so we can put this chapter in history behind us."

There should be a provision, at the very least, that allows limited viewing of the photos.

*****
All my previous posts on this subject matter can be found here; That link includes audio and video interviews with Lt. Col. Wingard, one by David Shuster, one by Ana Marie Cox, and more. My guest commentary at BuzzFlash is here.

Lt. Col. Barry Wingard is a military attorney who represents Fayiz Al-Kandari in the Military Commission process and in no way represents the opinions of his home state. When not on active duty, Colonel Wingard is a public defender in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

If you are inclined to help rectify these injustices: Twitterers, use the hashtag #FreeFayiz. We have organized a team to get these stories out. If you are interested in helping Fayiz out, e-mail me at The Political Carnival, address in sidebar to the right; or tweet me at @GottaLaff.

If you'd like to see other ways you can take action, go here and scroll down to the end of the article.

Then read Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side. You'll have a much greater understanding of why I post endlessly about this, and why I'm all over the CIA deception issues, too.

More of Fayiz's story here, at Answers.com.

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