NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a motion asking a federal judge to hold the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in contempt, charging that the agency flouted a court order when it destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the harsh interrogation of prisoners in its custody. In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the ACLU and other organizations in October 2003 and May 2004, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the CIA to produce or identify all records pertaining to the treatment of detainees in its custody. Despite the court’s ruling, the CIA never produced the tapes or even acknowledged their existence. Last week, in anticipation of media reports concerning the tapes, CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly acknowledged that the CIA had made the tapes in 2002 but destroyed them in 2005.
“The CIA’s secret destruction of these tapes displays a flagrant disregard for the rule of law,” said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It must be sanctioned for violating the court’s order and the obligation to preserve records that fell within the scope of our Freedom of Information Act requests.”
The tapes, which showed CIA operatives subjecting suspects to extremely harsh interrogation methods, should have been identified and processed for the ACLU in response to its FOIA request demanding information on the treatment and interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody. The tapes were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission, appointed by President Bush and Congress, which had formally requested that the CIA hand over transcripts and recordings documenting the interrogation of CIA prisoners.
“These tapes were clearly responsive to the Freedom of Information Act requests that we filed in 2003 and 2004, and accordingly the CIA was under a legal obligation to produce the tapes to us or to provide a legal justification for withholding them,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “By destroying these tapes, the CIA violated the statute as well as an order of the court. In the circumstances, it would be entirely appropriate for the court to hold the agency in contempt.”
The motion filed today relates to a lawsuit that was filed in 2004 to enforce a FOIA request for records concerning the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody abroad. The ACLU brought the FOIA lawsuit with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace.
The motion filed today asks the court to hold the CIA in contempt; to require the CIA to produce a complete list of all records that fall within the scope of the FOIA requests that have been destroyed (including tapes); and to require the CIA to file with the court a detailed written description of the substance of the destroyed tapes.
“The interrogation techniques employed by our government raise fundamental questions of human rights and decency,” said Arthur Eisenberg, New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Director. “The CIA cannot avoid those questions by simply destroying the evidence.”
The ACLU brief and related legal documents are available online at: www.aclu.org/torturefoia
Many of these documents
are also contained and summarized in Administration of Torture, a
recently published book by Jaffer and Singh. More information is available
Attorneys in the FOIA case are Lawrence S. Lustberg and Melanca D. Clark of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C.; Jaffer, Singh and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.