(RFE/RL) -- The Obama administration has agreed to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged past abuses of detainees at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The agreement follows a legal suit filed in 2004 by a prominent human rights group, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), requesting the government release 42 photos or demonstrate reasons for not doing so.
The ACLU said on April 23 that the court considering the case has received a letter from the Justice Department agreeing to the request.
According to the ACLU, the photos will be made available by May 28 and include not just the original 42 requested but a "substantial number" of other images.
The photos, taken between 2001 and 2006, are reported not to be as shocking as those taken of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003. Leaks of those photos to the media created public outrage around the world and brought widespread criticism of Washington's handling of the war on terror.
But some of the new photos -- which show alleged abuses at prisons other than Abu Ghraib -- are reported to depict U.S. service members intimidating or threatening detainees by pointing weapons at them.
Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the ACLU, told U.S. media that the photos will "constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush administration's claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational."
After the leak of the Abu Ghraib photos , the Bush administration said that the service members involved in the scandal were acting independently of higher authority.
No Torture Prosecutions
The expected release of the new photos is likely to further fuel the debate in the United States over how much the harsh interrogation practices that characterized the Bush administration's "war on terror" should be investigated.
The Obama administration last week released legal memos prepared during the Bush administration that gave the CIA justification for using harsh techniques that human rights groups consider to be torture when interrogating terrorism suspects.
But President Barack Obama combined the release of the memos on April 16 with an apparent effort to quell demands from some human rights groups that the Bush-era practices be fully examined and those responsible for abuses be prosecuted.
"Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past," Obama said. He also said that no CIA operatives who followed the memos' instructions would be prosecuted.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeated that assurance as he spoke on April 23 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. "First and foremost, the protection of the CIA officers who were involved in the interrogations and who performed their duties in accordance with the legal guidance that they had been given by the Justice Department, I wanted to make sure, I felt very strongly, that they be protected."
However, the administration has not said whether such protection from prosecution would extend to CIA agents who acted outside the directives in the Bush-era documents or to non-CIA staff involved in approving interrogation practices.
That has led to some confusion over just where the Obama administration might go from here.
This week Obama told reporters that the Justice Department would decide if anyone would be prosecuted for violating legal bans on torture. He also suggested Congress might create an independent panel to review the past.
In response, some members of the former Bush administration, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, are now urging the White House to release documents they say will justify the decision to use controversial interrogation techniques by showing valuable intelligence was obtained as a result.
Among the most controversial techniques was "waterboarding," in which a detainee is subjected to the sensation of drowning. The memos released last week show that one key Al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Zubaydah, was waterboarded at least 83 times and self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad 183 times.
The coming days are likely to see pressure on the Obama administration not only to release more documents but also clarify the extent to which it is ready to take punitive legal actions.
So far, it seems clear only that more documents will be forthcoming.
As for investigations, the best assessment this week may have come from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Asked her view of the administration's position, she answered, "As far as I know, it has not been definitively stated as to what the policy is."