Too Dangerous to Disclose? FOIA, Courtroom 'Visual Theory,' and the Legal Battle Over Detainee Abuse Photographs

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      Byline: Anna Veronica Banchik As law deepens its engagement with visual data, legal scholars have expressed concern that courts all too often uphold photographic evidence as objective representations of truth, rather than as necessarily partial portrayals of reality. To combat this naive realism in legal institutions, some are incorporating insights from media studies in calling for a jurisprudence of the visual. Drawing on an ongoing lawsuit over the disclosure of detainee abuse photographs taken in Iraq and Afghanistan after September 11, I suggest this project expand its scope to examine litigants' interpretations of images in courtrooms, as well as concerns beyond photographic objectivity that arise in disclosure disputes, including images' unique privacy implications and national security risks. Though the stakes in this case are atypical, these specific concerns are to varying degrees more germane. Having all been raised before, they are likely to be heard again, if only by a single judge or jury. Article Note: Anna Veronica Banchik is a Doctoral Student of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She may be contacted at [email protected] The author wishes to thank Mary Rose for her tireless support and boundless insight, as well as the anonymous reviewers whose suggestions were invaluable. This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-1610403, as well as by the College of Liberal Arts Thematic Fellowship of the University of Texas at Austin.