Saying Government Stonewalling Must End, ACLU and NYCLU Seek Immediate Release of U.S. Torture Documents

July 6, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union returned to federal court today seeking the immediate release of government documents concerning the abuse of detainees held by the United States at military bases and other detention facilities overseas.

“”For more than eight months now, the government has essentially ignored its legal obligation to release these records,”” said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU staff attorney. “”We believe that the public has a right to know what policies were adopted with respect to the interrogation and treatment of detainees, particularly as it is now clear that abuse of detainees was widespread.””

Today’s action follows on a lawsuit the group filed last month, which contended that the withholding of documents violated the government’s obligation to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace.

In a motion for a preliminary injunction filed today in the U.S District Court of the Southern District of New York, the ACLU asked the court to order the expedited release of documents from government agencies named as defendants in the case: the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Originally filed in October 2003, the FOIA request expressed concern — now validated by the Abu Ghraib photographs — that detainees in U.S. custody were being subjected to abuse and even torture. The FOIA request also cited reports that detainees were being turned over or “rendered” to foreign countries with poor human rights records as a way to sidestep domestic and international laws prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

The Defense Department and other government agencies refused to expedite the processing of the FOIA request, arguing that the request did not implicate “questions about the government’s integrity which affect public confidence” and that failure to expedite the request would not “endanger the life or safety of any individual.” Thus far, the only record that the government has released in response to the request is a set of talking points used by the State Department in communications with the media.

The ACLU and its allies renewed their request for records in May 2004, after the Abu Ghraib photographs came to light, but the Defense Department again denied expedited processing. The motion filed today relates to both the May 2004 and October 2003 requests.

The lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Jennifer Ching of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Jameel Jaffer, Judy Rabinovitz, and Amrit Singh of the ACLU, and Steven Watt, Barbara Olshansky and Jeff Fogel of CCR, Art Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

An ACLU feature on the FOIA request is online at /torturefoia.

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