(AP) LOS ANGELES – Six members of a Navy special forces unit and two Navy wives sued The Associated Press on Tuesday, saying the news agency endangered the servicemen’s lives and invaded their privacy by publishing photos showing the men interacting with Iraqi prisoners.
The lawsuit says the agency erred by not obscuring the identity of the six SEALs in photos that accompanied a story distributed worldwide earlier this month, contending publication of the photos jeopardizes future covert operations and harms the servicemen’s careers.
“There was no need for the AP to publish the faces of the SEALs,” James W. Huston, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a press release. “In fact, the SEALs showed more respect for the insurgents and terrorists that they were apprehending by obscuring their faces than the AP did for the Navy SEALs who were in Iraq risking their lives.”
The story was written by San Diego reporter Seth Hettena, who is named as a defendant. The story did not name the Navy members or the wife who posted the photos on what she believed was a private Web site.
“We believe that none of the claims have any solid basis in the law as we understand it,” said Dave Tomlin, AP’s assistant general counsel. “We intend to defend ourselves and our reporter vigorously and, we expect, successfully.”
The lawsuit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, states that Hettena took the photos from a Navy wife’s “personal digital photo album without notice or permission.” It says that the woman, identified only as “Jane Doe,” believed the nearly 1,800 photos she posted on the Internet site were protected from access by unauthorized users and required a password to view.
The initial AP story, transmitted Dec. 3, noted that the photos were found on the commercial photo-sharing Web site Smugmug.com using the search engine Google, and were not password-protected until after the reporter purchased copies online and began inquiries.
The story said the photos appear to show Navy SEALs in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees and also what appear to be bloodied prisoners, one with a gun to his head. It noted that the Navy had launched a formal investigation into the photographs after being shown them by an AP reporter, adding that the photos did not necessarily depict any illegal activities.
The AP later reported that the Navy’s preliminary findings showed most of the 15 photos transmitted by the agency were taken for legitimate intelligence-gathering purposes and showed commandos using approved procedures.
The AP noted that the Navy has expanded its investigation into additional photos, however, a process that could take up to a month and result in disciplinary action.
The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages, including punitive damages, and a preliminary injunction barring the AP from further use of the photos and requiring the agency to protect the SEALs’ identities.
It contends that at least two wives of the SEALs pictured have received daily harassing and threatening phone calls since the photos were published, and alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Taylor Clark, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command, declined comment on the suit, calling it a private matter.