NEW YORK — The United States cannot conceal pictures of abusive treatment of detainees by its soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan by saying their release might cause enemies to hurt someone, a federal appeals court said Monday in ordering the release of 20 photographs.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a 2006 ruling by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordering the release of the pictures to the American Civil Liberties Union. Hellerstein had ordered identifying facial features be removed from the pictures.

The color photographs were taken by servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government has opposed the release of pictures of abuse, saying they would incite violence against U.S. troops in Iraq and provoke terrorists.

The Freedom of Information Act allows restrictions when images could reasonably be expected to endanger someone's life or safety, but the appeals court said that exemption was meant for instances where threats were specific.

"It is plainly insufficient to claim that releasing documents could reasonably be expected to endanger some unspecified member of a group so vast as to encompass all United States troops, coalition forces and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan," the appeals court said.

In the future, it said, a government agency must identify at least one person who could be harmed with reasonable specificity if materials are made public.

ACLU attorney Amrit Singh called the decision "a resounding victory for the public's right to hold the government accountable."

Government lawyers had no comment on the ruling, spokeswoman Janice Oh said.

At Guantanamo Bay naval base, confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed offered Monday to help persuade one of his co-defendants to leave his prison cell for a pretrial hearing.

Mohammed volunteered to reach out to Ramzi Binalshibh after the military judge overseeing the case suggested that he might offer a separate trial for Binalshibh, who has refused to appear with his four co-defendants in America's most important war-crimes trial since the close of World War II.

Judge Ralph Kohlmann, a Marine colonel, permitted Mohammed and the other co-defendants to send notes to Binalshibh. If the Yemeni still refuses to appear in court on today, Binalshibh will be dragged from his cell, Kohlmann said.

"It is my hope that perhaps we can avoid the need for a forcible bringing of him here," the judge said.