SEALs file suit against AP over use of photos from Web site
December 30, 2004
WASHINGTON — Six Navy SEALs filed suit Tuesday against The Associated Press for publishing photos they said revealed their identities and connected them to the prisoner abuse scandals in Iraq.
The men, some of whom are still serving in Iraq, are asking for unspecified damages from the news service. They alleged the photos invaded their privacy and put their lives at risk by showing their faces in a series of photographs published earlier this month.
The photos, which showed the soldiers with hooded and handcuffed prisoners, were obtained by Associated Press reporter Seth Hettena, who also wrote a story suggesting they might show evidence of prisoner abuse.
Stars and Stripes ran the story and one of the photos in its Dec. 5 editions.
U.S. military forces came under heavy scrutiny this summer after the discovery of pictures showing Army Reserve troops abusing Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.
Navy Special Warfare Command began investigating the six SEALs following the photos release. Spokesman Lt. Taylor Clark said Wednesday that the investigation has been expanded to include the unit’s commanders, but so far the Navy has not released any of its findings.
James Huston, attorney for the SEALs, said the photos in this case were taken for documentation purposes and do not show any violation of standard covert operations procedures.
“When this goes to trial, I think everyone will see that they did nothing wrong,” Huston said. “But they’ve been tarred because this reporter said this could be the earliest evidence of prisoner abuse in Iraq.”
Associated Press assistant general counsel Dave Tomlin dismissed the charges.
“We believe AP’s use of the photos and the manner in which they were obtained were entirely lawful and proper,” he said. “We intend to defend ourselves and our reporter vigorously and, we expect, successfully.”
In a statement, one of the SEALs called the reporter’s actions “completely unnecessary.”
“We are very disappointed in this reporter’s unprofessional behavior and the fact that he showed such disregard for us, our safety, and the ongoing work we are doing,” the unnamed plaintiff said.
“We find this conduct especially appalling in light of the continuing war in Iraq and the fact that we are continuing to put ourselves at risk.”
Huston said since the photos were released they have been published widely in the Arab media, putting the SEALs’ lives in danger. Several were posted by Cuban government officials on a billboard outside of Guantanamo Bay, comparing the United States military to Nazis.
The lawsuit, filed in California, also accuses the AP of illegally obtaining the photos from a private Web site and names two of the SEALs’ wives as co-plaintiffs who suffered emotional trauma as a result of the incident.
In addition to the damages, the suit asks that AP be stopped from republishing the photographs or releasing any related photos.