ACLU Files Suit Against CIA For Failure To Release Reports On Torture Program

Senators who read the report say it’s important the public learn that use of torture didn’t lead to thwarting terrorist plots or killing Osama bin Laden.
By @katierucke |
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    A demonstration of waterboarding at a 2008 street protest in Iceland. (Photo/Campaign Against Military Bases via Wikimedia Commons)

    A demonstration of waterboarding at a 2008 street protest in Iceland. (Photo/Campaign Against Military Bases via Wikimedia Commons)

    Despite numerous blocks by officials throughout the past year, several activists and human rights organizations have continued to file lawsuits against the federal government to obtain the results of a 2012 study examining the legality of interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

    The American Civil Liberties Union filed a second Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on Tuesday hoping to receive a copy of the study, including the CIA’s response to the findings. The ACLU said it is working to bring the truth to the public, saying “Torture doesn’t work, and more importantly, it’s never acceptable.”

    So far the Obama administration has reportedly blocked the public release of the $40 million three-and-a-half-year study, which reviewed practices used by the CIA in order to gather information from suspected terrorists after the 9/11 terror attacks, which has also been cited as a reason why the agency’s detention and interrogation program is no longer in existence.

    The ACLU previously filed a FOIA request for the report and others related to the CIA’s interrogation and torture programs but has not yet received a response.

    Although the government has not given a specific reason as to why various activist organizations have not been able to obtain a copy of the study or at least the 300-page executive summary, activists say their requests continue to be ignored.

    No official reason has been provided as to why the information can’t be released, but some Republicans say report is flawed and second-guesses actions taken by intelligence officials during a “desperate time” when they were trying to thwart terrorist activity in the United States.

    However, according to several senators who have read the report, it’s important the American public learn that the “use of waterboarding, wall-slamming, shackling in painful positions, forced nudity and sleep deprivation produced little information of value,” and did not lead to the undoing of any terrorist plots or the capture of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

    It’s not known yet how long it will take to resolve the lawsuit, but Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that historically, litigation takes longer if the government refuses to voluntarily release information.

    While the ACLU has an uphill challenge, Shamsi said “sometimes FOIA litigation is necessary for informing the public,” an argument many activists and lawmakers alike agree with.


    Bipartisan review

    According to a 2012 press release from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the study, which was described as a review of “more than six-million pages of CIA and other records, extensively citing those documents to support its findings,” was initiated by Feinstein herself, then-chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which approved the review in March 2009 in a 14-1 vote.

    Although the committee’s investigation began as a bipartisan effort, many Republicans backed out after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that the Justice Department would review the interrogation program as well.

    And due to concerns that many CIA officers would not openly share information about the program during the review, committee Democrats decided to base their investigation solely on about six-million pages of documents.

    “There are more than 35,000 footnotes in the report,” Feinstein said, adding “I believe it to be one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States Senate, and by far the most important oversight activity ever conducted by this committee.”

    Though Feinstein didn’t provide any specific details about what the study found, she said the report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight.

    She added: “I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.”

    In a joint letter to President Obama, the ACLU, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, The Center for Victims of Torture, The Constitution Project, and others, reminded Obama that one of his very first acts as President was the signing of “an Executive Order that closed the CIA’s ‘black sites’ and restricted the agency to the techniques in the Army Field Manual.

    “Regrettably, former senior officials and supporters of past abusive policies continue to attack your decision by arguing that the former unlawful practices were necessary to save lives and keep the United States safe. As a result, fear and misinformation has dominated the public discourse,” the groups wrote. “This is in part because, in the words of Senate Intelligence Committee member Mark Udall at  [CIA director] John Brennan’s confirmation hearing, [i]naccurate information on the . . . effectiveness of the CIA’s detention-interrogation program was provided by the CIA to the White House, the DOJ, Congress and the public. Some of this information is regularly and publicly repeated today by former CIA officials, either knowingly or unknowingly. And although we now know this information is incorrect, the accurate information remains classified, while inaccurate information has been declassified and regularly repeated.

    “We believe the public release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence study is critical to upholding your 2009 Executive Order. Safeguarding your Executive Order from being overturned by a future administration or Congress will help ensure that the United States does not return to policies of torture and cruelty again.”

    Sen. John McCain agreed with the activists arguments, saying that “At a moment when our country is once again debating the efficacy and morality of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation’ practices, this report has the potential to set the record straight once and for all.”

    Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights added that “Releasing the Senate Committee’s study would send an important message that the U.S. is committed to upholding its international law obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, including the development of national security policies based on facts.”


    Intentional information block or FOIA backlog?

    Although many are pointing fingers at the Obama administration for failing to release the report’s findings, others say the delay is a direct result of federal agency’s inability to keep up with the increase in FOIA requests.

    According to a report from McClatchy Newspapers, “More than 1,000 FOIA lawsuits have been filed against the Justice Department and its sub-agencies since 2001, and an additional 1,000-plus FOIA lawsuits have been filed against the CIA and the departments of Defense and Homeland Security during the same period, according to data compiled by The FOIA Project.”

    In July, the New York Times reported that Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, had publicly urged the CIA and Senate Intelligence Committee to continue working together on the report and address any factual questions so that “some version of the findings of the report” could be made public.

    But many Republican lawmakers argue that the report should not be released to keep the CIA from having to defend its programs to the American public. Feinstein responded by saying that leaks defending the C.I.A. interrogation program regardless of underlying facts or costs have been a persistent problem for many years, and added that “This behavior was, and remains, unacceptable.”

    Feinstein said that conducting oversight sometimes is difficult and unpleasant, but added she’s confident the CIA will emerge an improved organization as a result of the committee’s work.

    “I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques such as those detailed in this report,” Feinstein said. “I look forward to working with the president and his national security team, including the Director of National Intelligence and Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to address these important issues, with the top priority being the safety and security of our nation.”

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    • profpatt

      The report should be released. Truth and Justice can always stand the light of day. — Prof Patt,

    • ballpark1981

      that’s funny, because 2 former cia directors say that ” enhanced techniques” were ” vital ” in getting intel( was cbs, i think ), now who would you believe, 2 who were actually involved with the intelligence gathering or a politician looking for funding???????