Court Rules Government Can Continue To Suppress Detainee Statements Describing Torture And Abuse
Transcripts Of Combatant Status Review Trials Essential To Accountability For Torture, Says ACLU
WASHINGTON - A
federal appeals court today ruled that the government can continue
suppressing transcripts in which former CIA prisoners now held at
Guantánamo Bay describe abuse and torture they suffered in CIA custody.
The ruling came in an ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to
obtain uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals
(CSRTs) used to determine if Guantánamo detainees qualify as "enemy
“The American people have a right to know what the government has done
in their name, and these transcripts, which include the direct testimony
of the victims themselves, are essential to a full understanding of the
Bush administration’s torture program,” said Ben Wizner, Litigation
Director of the ACLU National Security Project, who argued the appeal
for the ACLU. “The court’s decision undermines the Freedom of
Information Act and condones a cover-up. These transcripts are being
suppressed not to protect national security, but to shield former
government officials from accountability.”
The ACLU lawsuit sought transcripts of statements made by Guantánamo
prisoners concerning the abuse they allegedly suffered while in U.S.
custody. While the CIA released heavily-redacted versions of the
documents in June 2009, it continues to suppress major portions of the
documents, including detainees' allegations of torture.
Since the ACLU first filed its FOIA request for release of the
transcripts, several developments have undermined the government’s
claims that it can continue to withhold the documents: in January 2009,
President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting the coercive
interrogation techniques described in the suppressed transcripts and
ordered the closure of the CIA’s overseas prisons; in April 2009, the
government declassified four Justice Department memos that purported to
authorize the brutal interrogation techniques to which the detainees
were subjected; also in April 2009, the New York Review of Books
published a detailed report by the International Committee of the Red
Cross based on firsthand accounts of these detainees about their abuse
in CIA custody; and in August 2009, the government declassified large
portions of a report by the CIA’s Inspector General and other CIA and
Justice Department documents that provide additional details about the
interrogation methods to which the detainees were subjected.
Despite these developments, in October 2009 the U.S. District Court for
the District of Columbia granted the government's motion to dismiss the
case without even reviewing the documents in question in order to
determine if they were properly withheld. Today’s appellate court ruling
allows the government to continue withholding the documents.
“The notion that the CIA can classify torture victims’ descriptions of
their own first-hand experiences is dangerous and far-reaching,” said
Wizner. “No court has ever held that unconfirmed allegations offered by
detainees concerning the treatment to which they themselves were
subjected could be classified and suppressed.”
Attorneys on the case, ACLU, et al. v. DOD, et al., are Wizner
and Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU National Security Project, Lee Gelernt of
the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU
of the National Capital Area.
Today's ruling is available online at: www.aclu.org/national-
More about the ACLU's CSRT FOIA is at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.