Is the Obama administration going to stand in the way of justice for torture victims? We’ll know soon enough.
Last month, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of three torture victims against the psychologists contracted by the CIA to design, implement, and oversee its post-9/11 torture program. In past cases involving the CIA’s former “extraordinary rendition” and torture program, the Bush and Obama administrations stepped in to shut down the lawsuits before they even got underway. The government previously claimed that the CIA’s torture program was too secret for U.S. courts to consider. But this time is different, and the ACLU has formally asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch not to invoke the “state secrets privilege” so these torture victims can soon have their day in court.
Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the government invoked the “state secrets privilege” to shut down lawsuits by victims of torture. The government repeatedly claimed that even considering the claims of torture victims would harm national security. Unfortunately, judges largely gave in to these efforts to keep courts from confronting flagrant violations of the law. As a result, despite numerous lawsuits against the architects and perpetrators of the torture program, not a single victim has had their claims considered by an American court.
Whatever the government’s arguments in previous cases, however, things have changed. Now that there are official public reports naming our clients, describing their torture, and detailing the two psychologists’ responsibility, any attempt to claim that the torture of our clients is a state secret would be absurd.
Using secrecy to slam the courtroom door shut compounds torture survivors’ trauma and violates U.S. treaty obligations to provide a judicial remedy for government torture. Our national failure to provide justice, apologies, and compensation to torture victims has led to the erosion of our credibility as a human rights leader in the world.
But as The New York Times noted, this lawsuit offers “a chance for Obama to do the right thing on torture” — simply by not standing in the way of justice. Accountability for torture is a moral and legal imperative, and it is long overdue.
It’s not too late for the Obama administration to do right. It can start by simply not blocking the courtroom doors.