January 18, 2011

Transcripts Of Combatant Status Review Trials Essential To Accountability For Torture, Says ACLU

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court today ruled that the government can continue suppressing transcripts in which former CIA prisoners now held at Guantánamo Bay describe abuse and torture they suffered in CIA custody. The ruling came in an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to obtain uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) used to determine if Guantánamo detainees qualify as "enemy combatants."

“The American people have a right to know what the government has done in their name, and these transcripts, which include the direct testimony of the victims themselves, are essential to a full understanding of the Bush administration’s torture program,” said Ben Wizner, Litigation Director of the ACLU National Security Project, who argued the appeal for the ACLU. “The court’s decision undermines the Freedom of Information Act and condones a cover-up. These transcripts are being suppressed not to protect national security, but to shield former government officials from accountability.”

The ACLU lawsuit sought transcripts of statements made by Guantánamo prisoners concerning the abuse they allegedly suffered while in U.S. custody. While the CIA released heavily-redacted versions of the documents in June 2009, it continues to suppress major portions of the documents, including detainees' allegations of torture.

Since the ACLU first filed its FOIA request for release of the transcripts, several developments have undermined the government’s claims that it can continue to withhold the documents: in January 2009, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting the coercive interrogation techniques described in the suppressed transcripts and ordered the closure of the CIA’s overseas prisons; in April 2009, the government declassified four Justice Department memos that purported to authorize the brutal interrogation techniques to which the detainees were subjected; also in April 2009, the New York Review of Books published a detailed report by the International Committee of the Red Cross based on firsthand accounts of these detainees about their abuse in CIA custody; and in August 2009, the government declassified large portions of a report by the CIA’s Inspector General and other CIA and Justice Department documents that provide additional details about the interrogation methods to which the detainees were subjected.

Despite these developments, in October 2009 the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the government's motion to dismiss the case without even reviewing the documents in question in order to determine if they were properly withheld. Today’s appellate court ruling allows the government to continue withholding the documents.

“The notion that the CIA can classify torture victims’ descriptions of their own first-hand experiences is dangerous and far-reaching,” said Wizner. “No court has ever held that unconfirmed allegations offered by detainees concerning the treatment to which they themselves were subjected could be classified and suppressed.”

Attorneys on the case, ACLU, et al. v. DOD, et al., are Wizner and Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU National Security Project, Lee Gelernt of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.

Today's ruling is available online at: www.aclu.org/national-security/american-civil-liberties-union-et-al-v-department-defense-et-al-dc-circuit-court-0

More about the ACLU's CSRT FOIA is at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/csrtfoia.html

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