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6 Members of Elite Navy Force Sue News Agency Over Photos
New York Times
By TRACIE ROZHON Late Edition - Final , Section A , Page 16,Column 5
Article published Dec 29, 2004

Six members of the Navy Seals and two of their wives sued The Associated Press and one of its reporters yesterday for distributing photos of the Seals that apparently show them treating Iraqi prisoners harshly.

One wife had put the photos on what she believed was a password-protected Web site, a lawyer for the group said. The suit, filed in Superior Court in San Diego, charges The A.P. with invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It does not name the plaintiffs.

An Associated Press article on Dec. 3 about the photos said they had date stamps suggesting they were taken in May 2003 - months before the photographs taken at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that led to investigations of abuse of detainees.

In one photo published by The A.P., a gun is pointed at the head of a man who appears to be a prisoner; another shows a man in white boxer shorts, with what looks like blood dripping down his chest, his head in a black hood. In another, a grinning man in uniform is apparently sitting on a prisoner. The faces of most of the prisoners are obscured, but those of their captors are not.

James W. Huston, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said yesterday that since the photographs were published, the men's lives had been put in danger and their wives had received threatening calls. Mr. Huston said the photos had appeared in Arab news media and on anti-American billboards in Cuba.

The lawsuit demands that The A.P. obscure the faces of the Seals members if the photos are published again. Even if The A.P. agreed to shield the faces, Mr. Huston said, he would still pursue damages.

Mr. Huston said he did not know how The A.P.'s reporter got the photographs. "Obviously they were not as safe as she believed them to be," he said of the Navy wife, adding that she was not available for comment. The wife had put the photographs on Web the site as a kind of backup storage, her lawyer said, "and planned to go back and organize them or delete them later."

The A.P. reporter, Seth Hettena, discovered the photos on a Web site called Smugmug.com while researching another news story on alleged brutality by members of the Seals, according to an A.P. article on the suit. The site lets members display photos in password-protected or public galleries.

Reached at The A.P.'s San Diego bureau, Mr. Hettena said he could not comment on the suit or the photos. Dave Tomlin, a lawyer representing The A.P. and Mr. Hettena, said, "We believe that the use of the photographs and the manner they were obtained were entirely lawful and proper."

When Mr. Hettena first showed the photos to the Navy, it began its own investigation. The Navy found that some of the photographs were not exactly what they seemed. For example, the gun pointing at a prisoner had a light on the end of it and was apparently being used to illuminate a prisoner's face, said Cmdr. Jeff Bender, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif.

Other photographs were not as easily explained, Commander Bender said. "The picture with the guy grinning ear to ear," he said, referring to a shot of a Seals member posing between two hooded prisoners. "These kind of pictures are supposed to be taken strictly for administration and intelligence purposes."

A follow-up investigation is about halfway done, Commander Bender said. Jeffrey D. Neuburger, a lawyer specializing in technology and communications issues, said that "the photos are clearly newsworthy, and as a result, the First Amendment would protect their use" by The A.P.

Maybe it's just me, but I think war criminals don't have a right to have their identities protected and the press should not only print their names but their photos. The Fourth Reich was able to get these photo's pulled from the Internet and the press let them get away with it. The media serves the Party well.

"These kind of pictures are supposed to be taken strictly for administration and intelligence purposes." Is anyone this stupid?