x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Obama asks court to block release of new Abu Ghraib images

US president fears photos depicting abuses perpetrated by US soldiers at Iraqi prison could endanger troops in Afghanistan and inflame the situation in Pakistan.

President Barack Obama has asked a top court to block the release of another 2,000 images of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The photos, which some reports have claimed depict scenes of sexual violence, are part of a large criminal file compiled from an investigation carried out at the prison in 2004, following revelations of abuse of detainees by US soldiers.

Despite initially promising to approve release of the photographs, Mr Obama reversed his decision, saying they would inflame the already fragile situation in Pakistan and endanger the lives of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The demand for the photos release had come from the American Civil Liberties Union, which won a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act in Sept 2008. But in a report filed against that motion on Thursday, Gen David Petraeus, who oversees military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, said: "The official release of those images, even if redacted to obscure identifying information could reasonably be expected to adversely impact current military, political and civil efforts."

On the same day, the White House also denied that the photographs showed any scenes of rape. Detail of the content was revealed by Major Gen Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted the original inquiry at Abu Ghraib. He told Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper that some photos taken by a female soldier showed a teenage boy being raped by a translator. There has been no evidence of the existence of these types of photos and earlier this month, Mr Obama played down their significance. "I want to emphasise that these photos are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib, but they do represent conduct that did not conform with the army manual," he said on May 13.

Mr Obama also plans to take the appeal to the Supreme Court. Ray Odierno, the commander of US and multinational forces in Iraq, said American personnel would be in particular danger if new photos of alleged abuse were released. "The photos will likely cause a very public and emotional response in Iraq and in the larger Arab world because the images may touch on a number of deep-rooted Arab cultural values that will resonate with the Iraqi public," he wrote in his declaration.

Mustafa Alani, from the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, said that Mr Obama had made a smart political decision. "New photos would cause a new wave of anti-American anger in the region," he said, "especially if they are of rape. Mr Obama is right in his reasons to block them." However, Mr Alani said people still had a right to know the truth. "It is the right of the people to be able to see the whole truth."

Radwan Uday, an Iraqi shopkeeper in Baghdad, said he saw no reason for releasing the photos. "It's the first time I've heard of more photos. It's old now, it's over.The people that want to destabilise Iraq will use these pictures, the rest of us just want to get by and finish with this matter," he said. Mr Obama is scheduled to give a major speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4. aseaman@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters and AP