ACLU Sues Pentagon To Uncover Records Of Deaths At Guantanamo

April 17, 2008 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit today to force the Department of Defense to release all records relating to deaths, suicide attempts and homicide attempts at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay since 2002. The ACLU’s lawsuit follows a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for those documents, including records relating to four specific detainee deaths that the government categorized as suicides. To date, the Defense Department has failed to comply with the ACLU’s FOIA request.

“Over six years into Guantánamo’s existence, there have been dozens of suicide attempts and four apparent suicides and yet the Bush administration refuses to come clean about what happened, when, and most importantly, why,” said Hina Shamsi, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “The secrecy surrounding deaths at Guantánamo hides the dire consequences of indefinite detention from the American public. The prison camp is a blight on America’s conscience and the public needs to know the truth about what is going on there.”

According to news reports, hunger strikes and suicide attempts at Guantánamo began soon after the facility opened in 2002. In 2006, after three prisoners apparently killed themselves by hanging, government officials claimed their deaths were a “PR move.” The government refused to release suicide notes, the existence of which was widely reported. Last year, another detainee reportedly committed suicide and a fifth prisoner died of what the government labeled “natural causes.”

Overall, the Defense Department has reported that five detainees have died since 2002 and 41 have attempted suicide between 2002 and 2006. However, these figures most likely underestimate the actual number of attempted suicides at Guantánamo during this period. Although the Defense Department has acknowledged opening investigations into each of the four reported suicides, it has released no records relating to any of them or to the dozens of suicide attempts it admits have occurred.

“The U.S. government is unreasonably withholding critical information about deaths at Guantánamo,” said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “The public is entitled to accurate information about detention policies and accountability at Guantánamo and the Pentagon has no basis to shield these records.”

Since the U.S. government first transferred detainees to Guantánamo in January 2002, the offshore detention facility has damaged America’s reputation around the world. At the heart of the controversy surrounding Guantánamo are Bush administration policies that violate core constitutional principles of due process and justice: indefinite detention, lack of independent judicial review, and widespread abuse.

Attorneys in this case are Shamsi, Jameel Jaffer and Nasrina Bargzie of the ACLU National Security Project, Jennifer Turner of the ACLU Human Rights Program, Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area, and Deena Hurwitz of the University of Virginia School of Law’s International Human Rights Law Clinic and Human Rights Program.

More details about the ACLU’s FOIA request can be found in today’s legal complaint: www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/34913lgl20080417.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 Amrit Singh, Administration of Torture. More information is available online at: www.aclu.org/administrationoftorture

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