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Giving Voice to Tortured Detainees

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May 7, 2009

Today, The New York Times ran a strongly-worded editorial pointing out that as the body of information about Bush-era torture policies continues to grow, a major missing piece in the torture debate is the voices of the detainees themselves.

They write:

Those voices remain muffled by a combination of Bush-era resistance to a reasonable Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the gag order imposed on lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Attorney General Eric Holder needs to promptly repudiate both.

For two years, the A.C.L.U. has been seeking complete transcripts of the hearings at Guantánamo for 14 men who were previously in C.I.A. custody, including Abu Zubaydah, who has been described as an operative of Al Qaeda and was waterboarded at least 83 times. But the publicly released version of these transcripts deleted all detainee statements about their ordeals.

The A.C.L.U. is appealing an ill-considered ruling by a federal trial judge in the District of Columbia, who refused to review the sought-after material before blindly upholding the bogus Bush administration claim that disclosure would damage national security…

…Rather than simply adopt the Bush stand, the Justice Department has obtained a filing extension and is weighing what to do. Plainly, the right thing to do is to release the transcripts with the redacted portions filled in. The Bush team’s national security claim always had the odor of a cover-up. The interrogation program it was protecting has been discontinued, and crucial details are known. It is unsupportable to blank out grim details.

Destruction of the C.I.A.’s interrogation videos has eliminated crucial evidence of the horrors heaped on key detainees. It is unclear exactly when the torture began, and whether the procedures followed stayed within the limits set forth by the Bush legal team. That makes it all the more important for the Obama administration to let detainees’ voices be heard.

In March 2008, we filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding the release of unredacted transcripts of prisoners describing abuse and torture suffered in CIA custody. The FOIA request seeks transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) proceedings that determine if prisoners held by the Defense Department at Guantánamo qualify as “enemy combatants.”

A lower court upheld the Bush administration’s refusal to release un-redacted transcripts of CSRTs for 14 prisoners who were formerly held in the CIA’s secret prison system and are currently detained at Guantánamo. But in light of the released torture memos, we are hopeful that the new administration will fulfill its promise of transparency and release the transcripts.

Join the ACLU’s call for accountability, and sign a petition today demanding that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate Bush-era torture crimes.