Six Navy SEALs and the wives of two of them sued The Associated Press and a reporter on Tuesday for publishing photos taken from a Web site that appeared to show the troops abusing prisoners in Iraq.
The suit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, said the pictures did not depict abuse and instead put the lives of the soldiers at risk by exposing their faces to the world.
“We believe AP’s use of the photos and the manner in which they were obtained were entirely lawful and proper,” said Associated Press attorney Dave Tomlin, who is representing the news agency and reporter Seth Hettena.
The plaintiffs are identified only as “Six Navy SEALs and Two Jane Does,” and the suit indicates they have been allowed to file anonymously by court order.
“By failing to conceal the identities of the Navy SEALs, Defendants Seth Hettena and the AP have jeopardized the lives of Plaintiffs Six Navy Seals and their families, as well as compromised their future missions and careers,” the suit said.
The U.S. Navy said it had nothing to do with the suit.
“The lawsuit is not a naval special warfare issue but rather a civil matter undertaken by these individuals against The Associated Press, which is being handled through the legal process available to all Americans,” said Taylor Clark, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command.
An AP reporter discovered the photos, posted on the picture-sharing site Smugmug.com, during research on another set of photos that purportedly showed Navy SEALs abusing detainees.
Confronted with the photos, the Navy said this month it had launched an investigation. The plaintiffs said in their suit that the photos depicted regular special operations techniques and did not show abuse.
Jane Doe One, the lawsuit said, stored the photos on Smugmug.com, among a collection of personal photographs. The suit said the two Jane Does are wives of two of the SEALs, members of the elite Navy force Sea-Air-Land.
The AP reported that the unnamed woman said the photos came from her husband, who brought them from Iraq after his tour of duty. But the suit denies that that was the case, or that she told the AP as much.
Photos said to put lives at risk
Distributed around the world, the AP reported the photos showed Navy SEALs sitting on hooded and bound detainees, holding a gun to a detainee’s bloodied head, and placing a boot on the chest of a prone man.
Other photos showed grinning U.S. personnel sitting or lying atop three hooded prisoners in the bed of a pickup truck.
The Dec. 3 AP story quoted a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command as saying some of the photos could put the lives of the SEALs at risk.
The suit, which claims invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, seeks damages and an injunction barring further distribution of the photos.