The defence department had appealed against an order by Alvin Hellerstein, a US district judge, that said the government must release photos provided by Sergeant Joseph Darby, whose photos set off the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.   

After initially arguing the publication of the images could incite more violence in Iraq, the government withdrew its appeal and promised to release the images within seven days of the court's approval.
   
In court papers, the government noted that website Salon.com published images depicting the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Salon.com recently posted 279 photographs and 19 videos from Abu Ghraib on its website.

Australia's SBS station aired this
picture in February

The defence department will identify any of Darby's images already published on Salon.com and release edited versions of any that may not have appeared on the website, it said in court documents.

The pictures have been edited so the faces of the prisoners are not shown.

A US defence official, who asked not to be named, said: "This stipulation only applies to the 74 photos and three videos that were part of the litigation. We reserve the right to repeat arguments and to appeal future orders to release other images."

Right to know

The release of the images is part of a Freedom of Information Act suit filed in 2003 by civil rights groups, including the ACLU, over treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer, said: "The withdrawal of the government's appeal only confirms there was no legal basis for withholding these images from the public in the first case.

"The withdrawal of the government's appeal only confirms there was no legal basis for withholding these images from the public in the first case. This is a significant victory for the public's right to know the whole truth ... "

Amrit Singh,
ACLU lawyer

"This is a significant victory for the public's right to know the whole truth about the widespread abuse of detainees in US custody abroad."

The ACLU said the release of unpublished images of abuse at Abu Ghraib by Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) current affairs programme Dateline in February, as well as the Salon.com images, may have prompted the government's decision to withdraw its appeal.

In his order last year, Judge Hellerstein said releasing the images would initiate debate on the conduct of American soldiers and about the US Army's command structure.

To date, 90,000 pages of documents have been released to the civil rights groups, which have filed suit against several government departments and agencies, including the CIA, FBI and department of justice.

The Court of Appeals is due to hear arguments on another part of the case - the CIA's refusal to confirm or deny two documents, including a presidential executive order, relating to interrogation techniques - on June 15.