U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordered the release of certain pictures in a 50-page decision that said terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven they "do not need pretexts for their barbarism."
The American Civil Liberties Union has sought the release of 87 photographs and four videotapes from Abu Ghraib as part of an October 2003 lawsuit demanding information on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody and the transfer of prisoners to countries known to use torture. The ACLU contends that prisoner abuse is systemic.
Several brutal images of the abuse at the prison have already been widely distributed, but the lawsuit covers additional photos not yet seen by the public.
The judge said: "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. 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."
Hellerstein said he had great respect for the arguments of Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who maintained in court papers that releasing the photographs would aid al Qaeda recruitment, weaken the Afghan and Iraqi governments and incite riots against U.S. troops.
"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," Hellerstein said.
"The fight to extend freedom has never been easy, and we are once again challenged, in Iraq and Afghanistan, by terrorists who engage in violence to intimidate our will and to force us to retreat. Our struggle to prevail must be without sacrificing the transparency and accountability of government and military officials," he added.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, which argued the case for the government, did not immediately have a comment on the ruling.