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ACLU Asks Court to Order Government to Reveal Transcripts of Prisoner Abuse

The American Civil Liberties Union today asked a Washington, D.C., federal court to require the federal government to release the transcripts of 14 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in which they describe abuse and torture suffered in CIA custody.

The transcripts come from the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which the military set up to determine whether suspects seized qualified as “enemy combatants.” Advocates hoped the Obama administration would release those documents, which Bush officials had previously refused to turn over. But the CIA turned over only heavily-redacted transcripts of the proceedings in June that continue to conceal the prisoners’ accounts of their treatment.

“While much is known about the Bush administration’s torture program, the CIA is continuing to censor the most important eyewitnesses – the torture victims themselves,” Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said in a statement released today. “The CIA destroyed videotapes of interrogations in order to hide its crimes from the American public; the Obama administration should not prolong this cover-up by suppressing the victims’ firsthand accounts. The CSRT records will provide critical missing information about how the CIA’s torture program was actually carried out and will shed light on whether interrogators followed, or exceeded, Justice Department legal guidance that purported to authorize brutal interrogations.”

The government argues that it must continue suppressing the documents because releasing them would reveal “intelligence sources and methods” and might aid enemy “propaganda.”

The ACLU counters that most of those methods have already been publicized, and that fear of the public reaction to the information cannot be grounds for concealing it.

“No court has ever upheld the suppression of descriptions of government misconduct on the ground that those descriptions would inflame the nation’s enemies,” writes the ACLU lawyers in [their brief filed today](No court has ever upheld the suppression of descriptions of government misconduct on the ground that those descriptions would inflame the nation’s enemies. To do so would enshrine into the FOIA the fundamentally antidemocratic principle that the more egregious the government misconduct at issue, the more protected it would be from public disclosure. Thus would a statute enacted “to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed,” NLRB v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 242 (1978), be transformed into an instrument of cover-up.). “To do so would enshrine into the [Freedom of Information Act] the fundamentally antidemocratic principle that the more egregious the government misconduct at issue, the more protected it would be from public disclosure. “A law enacted “to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed,” writes the ACLU, citing the Supreme Court, would thus be “transformed into an instrument of cover-up.”

The Obama administration has made a similar argument to defend its refusal to release photos of prisoner abuse that the ACLU is also seeking under the Freedom of Information Act.

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