Thu, Dec 30, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Navy Seals and wives file lawsuit over Iraq photos

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

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

One of the wives placed 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 AP 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 photographs said they had date stamps suggesting they were taken in May last year -- months before the photographs taken at Abu Ghraib prison that led to investigations of detainee abuse.

In one photo published by the AP, 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 another prisoner. The faces of most of the prisoners are obscured, but those of their captors are not.

James Huston, the lead lawyer representing the Seals, said on Tuesday that since the photographs were published, the Seals' lives had been put in danger, and their wives had received threatening telephone calls. He said the photos had appeared in Arab news media and on anti-American billboards in Cuba.

The lawsuit demands that the AP obscure the faces of the Seals if the photos are published again. Huston said that even if the AP agreed to shield the faces, he would still pursue damages.

Huston said of the photographs, "Obviously they were not as safe as she believed them to be." The wife was not available for comment, he said. She had placed the photographs on the site as a kind of backup storage, her lawyer said, "and planned to go back and organize them or delete them later."

The AP reporter, Seth Hettena, discovered the photos on a Web site called Smugmug.com while he was researching another story on alleged brutality by the Seals, according to an AP article on the suit. The site lets members display photos in password-protected or public galleries. Reached at the San Diego bureau of the AP, Hettena said he could not comment on the suit or the photos.

Dave Tomlin, a lawyer repre-senting the AP and Hettena, said he had read a summary of the complaint.

"We believe that the use of the photographs and the manner they were obtained were entirely lawful and proper," he said.

When 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 Commander Jeff Bender, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, California.

But some of the other photographs were not as easily explained, he said.

"The picture with the guy grinning ear to ear," he said, referring to a shot of a Seal posing between two hooded prisoners. "These kind of pictures are supposed to be taken strictly for administration and intelligence purposes."

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