WASHINGTON — The Obama administration asked a federal appeals court Thursday to halt the release of disturbing images of detainee abuse, saying the photos could incite violence in Pakistan as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The court papers filed in New York cite two partially secret statements from two top U.S. generals, David Petraeus and Ray Odierno.
Such arguments failed to sway the court in the past. In the new filings, Petraeus, who oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, said the images could also lead to more violence in Pakistan because it deals with Taliban attacks.
The filings underscore just how worried U.S. officials are about the increasing violence in Pakistan. While past arguments about the photos referred generally to the Middle East, Petraeus' statement spends several pages discussing Pakistan's recent struggles against terrorism.
The administration had planned to release the photos until President Barack Obama reversed the decision this month, saying their release would endanger U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Disseminating the photos poses "a clear and grave risk of inciting violence and riots against American and coalition forces, as well as civilian personnel, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan," according to the motion filed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department on Thursday denied a British newspaper report that some of the images showed U.S. personnel sexually assaulting detainees. The Daily Telegraph had reported that a former U.S. general said graphic images of rape and torture are among the pictures.
The photos were ordered released as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Bush administration had also fought their release, and lost.
ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said the new filing by the Obama administration "has no new arguments" and will be opposed. She also criticized the Obama administration for redacting parts of the generals' arguments about the safety threats posed by the photos.
"It's troubling to us that not only is the government withholding the photographs, but it's also withholding its arguments for withholding the photographs," said Singh.
The court ruled in September 2008 that general concerns about public safety were not specific enough to merit blocking the release of the photos.
The motion filed Thursday also notes that the government plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Congress is also considering stepping in to block the photos' release.
Odierno, who commands the troops in Iraq, said in his statement to the court that the 2004 release of photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison "likely contributed to a spike in violence in Iraq" that year. He also said he has been told by senior political officials in Iraq that release of the photos would upset the democratic process in Iraq before national elections.
The pleas by Odierno and Petraeus echo those in 2005 by Gen. Richard Myers, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.