FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
"The Public Should Know Of Our Government's Treatment of Individuals Captured And Held Abroad," Judge Says
NEW YORK - Declaring that "no one is above the law," a federal court judge today ordered the government to turn over or identify within 30 days all documents relating to the treatment of prisoners held by the United States at military bases and other detention facilities overseas, including Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union greeted the strongly worded order as a signal victory in their nearly year-long effort to compel the government to comply with their request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
"The court today vindicated the public's right to know who is responsible for the systemic abuse of detainees held in United States custody," said Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney. "The truth must be known, no matter how embarrassing it might be to the government."
At issue is a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and its allies after the Defense Department and other federal agencies failed to release records in response to FOIA requests filed in October 2003 and May 2004. The requests sought records concerning the interrogation and treatment of detainees and the extrajudicial "rendition" of detainees to countries known to use torture.
In issuing today's order, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein sharply criticized the "glacial pace" at which the government has responded to the groups' request. "Ours is a government of laws, laws duly promulgated and laws duly observed," Judge Hellerstein said in the opening lines of his order. "No one is above the law: not the executive, not the Congress, not the judiciary."
"If the documents are more of an embarrassment than a secret, the public should know of our government's treatment of individuals captured and held abroad," Judge Hellerstein said.
Judge Hellerstein issued the order following a hearing on September 10 at which the government sought to delay release of documents until 2005. In rejecting that request, the court today specifically ordered the government to "produce or identify" the documents by October 15, 2004. Documents that are not produced must be identified in a list that includes the author, addressee, date and subject matter. Documents that cannot be identified because of their classification status must be produced in a log to the court. The government must also supply the ACLU with a list called a "Vaughn index" stating its justification for withholding documents.
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.
The lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Jennifer Ching of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Singh, Jameel Jaffer, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Art Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Steven Watt, Barbara Olshansky and Jeff Fogel of CCR.
A web feature about the case, including eight documents the government released on August 25, is online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia
Judge Hellerstein's order is online at /node/35458.