During the Bush administration, many hundreds of people were tortured and abused by the CIA and Department of Defense, primarily in Afghanistan, Guantánamo, and Iraq, but also in other countries after unlawful rendition. Our government’s embrace of torture shattered lives, shredded our nation’s reputation in the world, and compromised our national security.
But the stain of torture extends even further. Our nation has not held to account any of the officials who authorized the use of torture or oversaw its implementation. This failure to engage in a formal legal reckoning has contaminated our legal system.
In January 2009, shortly after entering office, President Barack Obama took important steps to dismantle the torture program. But his administration undermined that early promise by thwarting accountability for government officials who authorized the use of torture. Even though courts have an array of tools for dealing with sensitive cases, the government claimed in numerous cases that national security concerns bar victims — including U.S. citizens — from bringing damages claims for violations of the Constitution. Even though torture has been prohibited for centuries, the government argued that those responsible for torture should be immune from liability because it wasn’t “clearly established” that torturing prisoners is illegal. And even though it has long been public that the CIA had a torture program, the government invoked the “state secrets” privilege to shut down lawsuits at the very outset. To this country’s national shame, courts largely accepted the government’s efforts to block accountability for torture.
Now, an ACLU lawsuit, Salim v. Mitchell, marks the first time that the government has not tried to close the courthouse doors to survivors of CIA torture.
The ACLU continues to push for accountability for torture to ensure such heinous crimes are never repeated. We are working to bring about the release of still-classified information about the torture program, to seek justice for victims, and to bring the torturers to account. We remain vigilant about any return to these inhumane and unconstitutional acts.
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