Government Withholds Key Torture Documents In ACLU Lawsuit

September 1, 2009 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The government has said it will continue to withhold dozens of documents related to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody overseas. The Justice Department was facing an August 31 deadline to release the documents, including a presidential directive authorizing CIA “black sites” as well as CIA inspector general (IG) records and documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) regarding the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” in response to two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

U.S. District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York ordered the government to turn over the documents by August 31 or else provide justification for continuing to withhold them. In a filing late Monday, the CIA said it will not release the documents, claiming that disclosing details about the enhanced interrogation program would harm national security.

“The CIA’s justification for withholding the documents is entirely incompatible with the Obama administration’s stated commitment to ending torture and restoring governmental transparency. On the one hand, President Obama has publicly recognized that torture undermines the rule of law and America’s standing in the world, but on the other, the CIA continues to argue in court that it cannot disclose information about its torture techniques because it would jeopardize the CIA’s interrogation program,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The CIA’s arguments are utterly disconnected from the Obama administration’s stated positions. The agency seems to be disregarding altogether the important policy changes that President Obama announced immediately after he took office.”

In its filing, the CIA also argued that the information available to the public about the enhanced interrogation program should be limited to its historical context and legal underpinnings. However, the government has already released several documents that provide more than merely abstract detail about the interrogations. The Justice Department last week made public dozens of related documents as part of the ACLU’s FOIA litigation, including a CIA IG report on the CIA’s interrogation tactics, a December 2004 CIA background paper giving a detailed official description of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program and a 2007 OLC memo describing “enhanced interrogation techniques” to be used against prisoners then in CIA custody.

“Given the vast amount of evidence that the U.S. torture program was widespread and systemic, it’s disappointing that the government continues to withhold these vital documents that would fill in the remaining gaps in the public record,” said Alex Abdo, a legal fellow with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “The Obama administration must fulfill its commitment to transparency and release all crucial documents that would shed further light on the origins and scope of the Bush administration’s torture program. The American public has a right to know the full truth about the torture that was committed in its name.”

Attorneys in the FOIA lawsuit are Jaffer and Amrit Singh of the national ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Lawrence S. Lustberg and Jennifer B. Condon of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C.; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Yesterday’s government filing is available online at:

More information about the ACLU’s FOIA litigation is at:

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