Court Orders CIA to Comply With Request For Torture Records

February 2, 2005 12:00 am

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Defense Department Illegally Withholding Photographs Depicting Abuse, ACLU Charges

NEW YORK-A federal judge today rejected an attempt by the Central Intelligence Agency to indefinitely delay the processing and release of critical documents pertaining to the torture or abuse of detainees held by the United States government. The ruling relates to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed more than a year ago by the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.

“The public has a right to information about the CIA’s role in the abuse and torture of detainees,” said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. “We are hopeful that today’s order will encourage the CIA to finally comply with our request for information.”

The FOIA request was filed by the ACLU, 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 with the ACLU in the case.

In September, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein issued an order requiring all of the government agencies named in the lawsuit to search and review their files for records responsive to the FOIA request. However, at a hearing on December 22, the CIA argued that it did not have to search its operational files. In today’s ruling, Hellerstein found that the CIA “failed to articulate a viable reason” why the agency’s operational files should be exempt from the September order.

Hellerstein also noted that the CIA’s Inspector General is conducting an investigation into impropriety and possible criminal activity by CIA personnel in Iraq, and that the CIA has already searched its operational files in connection with that investigation.

Thus far, the ACLU and other organizations have received and disseminated more than 23,000 pages of documents in response to the lawsuit. The records received from the government agencies, which include the FBI, Justice Department and State Department, have shown patterns of widespread abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. The documents also show a rift between government agencies on the use of torture.

In addition to documents, the FOIA request also seeks videotapes and photographs depicting the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other detention facilities. However, the Defense Department has so far refused to release these items. The ACLU and other organizations filed a brief on January 13 arguing that the Defense Department is withholding these materials unlawfully, and that any legitimate privacy interests in withholding the photographs and videotapes can be accommodated by obscuring the faces of the individuals depicted.

The Defense Department has asked the court to extend the deadline for processing remaining documents, which was originally scheduled for January 31. Attorneys for the organizations will appear in federal court in New York on February 22 to address this issue.

The lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Jaffer, Amrit Singh, Omar Jadwat and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Art Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky and Jeff Fogel of the CCR.

For a copy of today’s ruling, go to: /node/35477

More information on the ACLU lawsuit can be found at:

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