US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein on Thursday said "terrorists" in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved they "do not need pretexts for their barbarism".
The American Civil Liberties Union sought the release of 87 photographs and four videotapes as part of an October 2003 lawsuit demanding information on the treatment of detainees in US custody and the transfer of prisoners to countries known to use torture. The ACLU contends that prisoner abuse is systemic.
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.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had maintained in court papers that releasing the photographs would aid al-Qaida recruitment, weaken the Afghan and Iraqi governments and incite riots against US troops.
Hellerstein said in his 50-page opinion that he respected Myers' arguments.
But he added that his job was "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".
"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"
ACLU Executive Director
The ruling was expected to be appealed, which could delay the release for months.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero called it historic. "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," he said.
The US attorney's office in Manhattan, which argued the case for the government, did not immediately comment.