Federal Judge Orders Justice Department To Turn Over Memos Authorizing Torture Or Justify Withholding Them
ACLU Also Obtains Documentation Of Prisoner Abuse And Death In Iraq
NEW YORK - A
federal judge has ordered the Justice Department's Office of Legal
Counsel (OLC) to turn over three memos that authorized the extremely
harsh treatment of prisoners in CIA custody or explain by October 3 why
these memos can lawfully be withheld. The American Civil Liberties
Union called for the immediate release of the May 2005 OLC memos as
part of its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit requesting
information on the treatment and interrogation of detainees in U.S.
"These memos provide further
evidence that senior Justice Department officials gave the CIA a green
light to torture prisoners," said Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the
ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "It is essential that these memos
immediately be released to the public so that high level officials can
be held accountable for authorizing torture as policy in violation of
U.S. and international law."
The New York Times disclosed the
existence of two of the three OLC memos in a front-page article on
October 4, 2007. The Times reported that the first memo explicitly
authorized interrogators to use combinations of harsh interrogation
methods including waterboarding, head slapping and exposure to freezing
temperatures. The second memo, issued by OLC as Congress prepared to
enact legislation prohibiting "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,"
declared that none of the CIA's interrogation methods violated that
Following that report, the ACLU
filed legal papers charging that the memos should have been - but were
not - identified and processed for its FOIA lawsuit. In response to the
ACLU's request for the release of the two memos, the government
revealed the existence of a third memo, dated May 30, 2005, and
confirmed that the first two memos referenced in the New York Times
were dated May 10, 2005. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S.
District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the
memos are responsive to the ACLU's lawsuit and ordered the government
to either produce them or demonstrate why it may lawfully withhold the
In another development in the same
case, the ACLU obtained Department of Defense (DOD) documents about the
treatment of detainees in Iraq. The documents, from the military's
Criminal Investigation Division, are from two investigations. One
report relates to the September 2003 death of Baha Daoud Salim and the
abuse of eight other individuals in Basrah, Iraq, at the hands of
British forces. The file notes that "coordination with British Forces
revealed Mr. Salim's cause of death to be asphyxiation and his manner
of death to be a ‘potential murder.'"
The other file relates to the
October 2003 interrogation of a Saudi civilian by a U.S. soldier,
during which the interrogator allegedly stepped and ground his foot on
a gunshot wound to the civilian's thigh.
The judge's order is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/
The DOD documents released today are available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/
To date, more than 100,000 pages of
government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's FOIA
lawsuit. They are available online at: www.aclu.org/torturefoia
Many of these documents are also
compiled and analyzed in "Administration of Torture," a recently
published book by Singh and Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU
National Security Project. More information is available online at: www.aclu.org/
In addition to Singh and Jaffer,
attorneys on the case are Alexa Kolbi-Molinas and Judy Rabinovitz of
the national ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York
Civil Liberties Union; Lawrence S. Lustberg and Melanca D. Clark of the
New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C.; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael
Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
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