The United States Government is fighting to keep secret thousands of photographs showing American troops abusing and sexually humiliating prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan and mocking dead bodies.
The pictures include an image of a female soldier allegedly pretending to sodomise a naked prisoner with a broom and photos of troops pointing guns at detainees as they lie with hands tied and hoods on their heads.
Watch: Analysis: CIA torture report
A week after a Senate report laid bare the scale of the CIA's covert torture programme, the White House is nearing a critical stage in its battle to prevent release of the photographs. The Bush and Obama Administrations have said releasing the pictures, taken between 2001 and 2009, would incite violence against US troops and civilians in the Middle East. But a federal judge has not been persuaded by that argument and has given government lawyers until Saturday to prove that the 2000 pictures could be a threat to national security.
If the Government is unable to provide sufficient evidence it will be ordered to release the pictures, although the faces of individual soldiers will be obscured. If the judge rules against the White House, its lawyers could decide to appeal, setting the stage for a protracted legal battle.
The pictures were largely taken by US troops themselves, and were gathered during 203 military investigations in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Barack Obama initially agreed to release additional pictures after taking office in 2009 but reversed course after the Iraqi Government warned that it could lead to widespread violence.
His Secretaries of Defence signed orders in 2009 and 2012 blocking their release but a judge ruled in August that the orders were no longer sufficient, as the US had largely withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. "Three years is a long time in war, the news cycle and the international debate over how to respond to terrorism," Judge Alvin Hellerstein wrote.
The American Civil Liberties Union first filed a lawsuit in 2004 seeking information about abuse of detainees.
Poll shows half support CIA methods
About half of Americans believe the CIA was justified in its harsh interrogation methods of "war on terror" detainees.
The results are contained in a poll by the Pew Research Centre and come just days after a damning United States Senate report revealed harrowing details of torture.
The report said the CIA's interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects, including beatings, rectal rehydration and sleep deprivation, was far more brutal than acknowledged and did not produce useful intelligence.
But 51 per cent of people in the US believe the CIA's methods were justified (29 per cent said not) and 56 per cent said the intelligence gathered from those methods prevented terrorist attacks.