Federal Judge Orders CIA and Defense Department to Produce Documents for Court Review

January 17, 2008 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – A federal judge today ordered the CIA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide him with documents related to the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York ordered the government to make the documents available to him so he can determine for himself whether they should be made public pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.

“Given the evidence of widespread and systemic abuse of prisoners, it is entirely appropriate for the judge to view these documents for himself instead of taking the government’s word for why they should be kept secret,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU. “The right of the American public to know whether its own government respects the laws against torture is central to democracy. The Freedom of Information Act was designed to disclose precisely this kind of information and we are hopeful that the documents will be made public.”

The documents Judge Hellerstein will view include:

  • DoD documents relating to the deaths of prisoners;
  • DoD documents relating to allegations of prisoner abuse;
  • DoD documents relating to interrogations that deviate from those permitted by the current Army Field Manual;
  • A September 17, 2001 CIA Presidential Directive setting up secret CIA detention centers abroad;
  • CIA documents gathered by the CIA’s Inspector General in the course of investigations into unlawful and improper conduct by CIA personnel; and
  • CIA documents discussing the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program referred to the CIA from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

Judge Hellerstein is still considering the ACLU’s motion to hold the CIA in contempt of court for destroying thousands of hours of videotape depicting the abusive interrogations of two detainees in its custody. The ACLU charges that by destroying the tapes, the CIA violated a September 2004 court order requiring the CIA to produce or identify records that fell within the scope of its FOIA request.

Kolbi-Molinas and Amrit Singh of the national ACLU and Melanca D. Clark of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C. argued in front of Judge Hellerstein today.

Other attorneys in the case are Jameel Jaffer and Judy Rabinovitz of the national ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Lawrence S. Lustberg of Gibbons P.C.; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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