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The nation’s largest veteran’s organization condemned a U.S. district court’s decision ordering the release of dozens of photos and videotapes of abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

In a friend of the court brief, the American Legion argued the release of additional photos of abuse would pose a severe danger to U.S. troops in Iraq.

But U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein yesterday ordered the government to release the 74 photographs and three videos depicting events at the prison, noting in his decision that terrorists “do not need pretexts for their barbarism” and that withholding the photos from the public is tantamount to “blackmail.”

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, national commander of the Legion, Thomas L. Bock, said Gonzales should lead the way in overturning Hellerstein’s “extremely dangerous” ruling, adding it could produce additional dangers for American troops still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan by further enraging Iraqis.

“This ruling is deplorable,” Bock said. “It will only serve to rally the insurgents into a frenzied crescendo of violence against our servicemen and women, indeed against all Americans living and working overseas.”

Bock said he would lead the 2.7-million member organization in a fight against Hellerstein’s ruling and would “make the journey” with Gonzales “all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.”

In his ruling, Hellerstein said he merely was upholding American ideals.

“Our nation does not surrender to blackmail, and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument to prevent us from performing a statutory command,” he wrote. “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.”

Bock disagreed, suggesting it would, instead, pose a danger to those fighting to establish similar principles of freedom and democracy in war-torn Iraq.

“This decision will put teachers, lawyers, ministers, and workers of charitable organizations who are helping the Iraqis and the Afghans rebuild their societies into the crosshairs of terrorist killers,” said Bock.

“Four U.S. missionaries died in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Mosul a few months back; two were women. These killers have demonstrated time and time again they can and will target innocent foreigners in a heartbeat. Given the expected widespread publication of these photos, no American would be safe,” he said.

Military disapproves

Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the war in Iraq, agreed releasing the photos would hinder operations.

“When we continue to pick at the wound and show the pictures over and over again it just creates the image – a false image – like this is the sort of stuff that is happening anew, and it’s not,” he said.

The release of the additional photographs was sought by the American Civil Liberties Union in connection with a 2003 lawsuit requesting information on U.S. treatment of all prisoners in the custody of the American military. The suit also sought information on the transfer of some prisoners to countries that sanctioned torture.

The organization says it believes prisoner torture is widespread and has sought release of the photos as proof.

“While no one wants to see what’s on the photos or videos, they will play an essential role in holding our government leaders accountable for the torture that’s happened on their watch,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.

Hellerstein said he was in the business of applying the law, not helping the government avoid further embarrassment.

“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,” he said.

Bock pointed out, however, under FOIA’s Exemption 7 clause, information that “could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual” does not have to be released.

History of violence

Past events appear to support those concerns held by the Legion and by Gen. Abizaid.

The first photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib were broadcast by CBS News April 28, 2004, and they caused an immediate furor, both at home and abroad. And, as WND reported, even phony photos alleging that American GIs had raped Iraqi women caused outrage.

The BBC reported the Abu Ghraib abuse pictures were broadcast so often and so widely throughout the Arab world it was like, “all torture, all the time.”

Bock pointed to another phony incident which also provoked violence against U.S. forces.

“In light of the recent violence sparked by the false report of a Quran being ‘flushed down the toilet’ that resulted in the deaths of more than 15 individuals and injury to many more, it is beyond comprehension how one judge can err so blatantly,” he said.

“Once again our troops are under siege by the ACLU and once again, the ACLU’s rationale is as ludicrous as its other moves against the military,” said Bock.

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