The decision to make public the images sought in a legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union comes amid a political firestorm over alleged torture of detainees under President George W. Bush.
Some of the photographs, which will be released before May 28, are said to show American service personnel humiliating prisoners, according to officials.
The images relate to more than 400 separate cases involving alleged prisoner abuse between 2001 and 2005.
Descriptions of some of the alleged abuse photographs include:
* A prisoner pushed up against a wall as military guards or interrogators appear to threaten to sexually assault him with a broomstick
* Female soldiers posing with hooded, shackled prisoners who were stripped naked
* Hooded prisoners on transport planes with Playboy magazines opened to pictures of nude women on their laps
The administration initially planned to release only the 21 photos sought by the ACLU, but General David Petraeus ordered that all 2,000 photographs be released to keep from “dragging this issue out forever”.
The Pentagon fears a backlash in the Middle East similar to the one provoked by pictures from Abu Ghraib prison, near Baghdad, in 2004 which became emblematic of American mistakes in Iraq.
Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer, said that “these photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by US personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib”.
The Bush administration had resisted releasing the images to the public, contending that the disclosure would fuel anti-American feeling and violate US obligations towards prisoners under the Geneva Conventions. Several people have already been tried at courts martial for using guns to threaten detainees in cases connected to the photographs.
Mr Obama’s decision could undercut his struggle to persuade Congress not to institute a “truth commission” to investigate alleged prisoner abuse and force former Bush administration officials to testify and account for their actions and advice.
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