In a victory for human and civil rights groups, a
federal judge has given the government 30 days to turn over or identify all
documents relating to the treatment of detainees held by the United States
at military bases and other detention facilities overseas, including at the
naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The ruling by Judge Alvin Hellerstein, which may be appealed by the
government, was the latest development in a lawsuit filed in June by the
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several other rights groups to
compel the government to disclose records bearing on the possible abuse of
detainees in U.S. military custody pursuant to Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA) requests first submitted 11 months ago.
Declaring that "no one is above the law", Hellerstein said, "merely raising
national security concerns cannot justify unlimited delays" in complying
with the requests. The government had requested that the judge delay the
release of all documents until 2005.
"Ours is a government of laws, laws duly promulgated and laws duly
observed," he said in the order issued by his office in New York City
Wednesday. "No one is above the law: not the executive, not the Congress,
not the judiciary."
"If the documents are more of an embarrassment than a secret, the public
should know of our government's treatment of individuals captured and held
abroad," he noted, criticising the "glacial pace" with which the George W.
Bush administration had responded to the groups' requests.
The original FOIA request, which was directed to the Pentagon and the
Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State, asked them to
immediately process and release all records of the abuse or torture of
detainees held at Abu Ghraib and other overseas detention facilities,
including the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and records of
investigations and inquiries that resulted from reports of abuse.
The initial FOIA request also asked for records of the deaths of detainees
in U.S. custody and any records of investigations into those deaths.
According to recent news reports, several dozen detainees have died in U.S.
custody in Afghanistan and Iraq since late 2001; at least 16 of them have
been classified as homicides.
The FOIA also requested all records regarding policies governing the
interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody and the "rendition" of detainees
to other countries known to use torture.
Ironically, the original request was filed at around the same time that
abuses at Abu Ghraib prison were being photographed by soldiers
participating in the abuse. The disclosure of those photographs and their
reproduction in the world's media in April set off a major scandal which
the administration is still trying to overcome...