ACLU Sues To Uncover Records Detailing Torture And Abuse Of Guantánamo Prisoners

March 13, 2008
WASHINGTON – Decrying the U.S. government’s failure to comply with its records request, the American Civil Liberties Union is filing a federal lawsuit today to force the government to release un-redacted transcripts in which 14 prisoners now held at Guantánamo Bay describe abuse and torture they suffered in CIA custody. The ACLU’s lawsuit, which raises claims under the First Amendment and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), follows a FOIA request seeking the uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) that determine if prisoners held by the Defense Department at Guantánamo qualify as “enemy combatants.”

“As the Guantánamo era enters its seventh shameful year, the government still refuses to level with the American people. Its stonewalling is illegal and obstructs the public’s right to know the truth about torture and abuse conducted in our name,” said Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “By the government’s perverse reasoning, these prisoners, who have already been tortured, must remain in detention forever – incommunicado – to prevent them from simply describing their abuse in U.S. custody. There is no precedent in our law or history for such a dangerous and far-reaching claim.” 

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has publicly confirmed that three of the 14 prisoners in question were subjected to “waterboarding,” an infamous form of torture and the most controversial of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed against prisoners held in CIA custody. In response to the ACLU’s April 2007 FOIA request, the Defense Department released transcripts of CSRT hearings for the 14 prisoners, but the prisoners’ charges of abuse were redacted.

The CSRTs are ad-hoc administrative review bodies operated by the Department of Defense to determine whether a prisoner has been properly classified as an “enemy combatant.” They are composed of a panel of three military officers and an officer known as the “Recorder,” who is not required to be a judge. Presumed to be an “enemy combatant” unless proven otherwise, prisoners are not afforded any legal representation and are assisted only by a tribunal staff member who is neither a lawyer nor an advocate. In addition, CSRTs may rely on secret evidence or on evidence obtained through coercive interrogation practices in making its decision. Unsurprisingly, virtually all of the prisoners sent through this system were designated “enemy combatants.”

“There’s no justification whatsoever for suppressing prisoners’ allegations of abuse and torture,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The Bush administration is suppressing the prisoners’ allegations not for national security reasons, but to protect government officials from embarrassment, criticism, and possible criminal prosecution. Neither the Freedom of Information Act nor the First Amendment permits the government to withhold information on these grounds.”

In September of 2006, President Bush revealed that these 14 prisoners had been transferred to Guantánamo after being held incommunicado for up to four years in secret CIA detention facilities or “Black Sites.” In addition to the three known cases of detainee torture disclosed by the Bush administration, it has been widely reported that the CIA subjected other prisoners to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, including prolonged sleep-deprivation, stress positions, exposure to extreme temperatures, and “waterboarding,” during their detention.

Attorneys in this case are Wizner and Jaffer of the ACLU National Security Project, Judy Rabinovitz and Amrit Singh of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.

Today's legal complaint can be found at: 
www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/34472lgl20080313.html

To date, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to a previous ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at: www.aclu.org/torturefoia

In addition, many of the FOIA documents are also located and summarized in a recently published book by Jaffer and Singh, Administration of Torture. More information is available online at: www.aclu.org/administrationoftorture

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