Civil-rights and veterans groups on Wednesday sued the US government for what they said was illegally withholding records about American military abuse of prisoners held in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and other locations.
The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, charges that the US departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State have failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the groups last year. Other defendants in the suit include the FBI and CIA.
The plaintiffs are seeking records documenting torture and abuse which they said has occurred since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. They said that after they filed the FOIA request in October, numerous news stories and photographs have documented mistreatment of prisoners held in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There is growing evidence that the abuse of detainees was not aberrational but systemic, that in some cases the abuse amounted to torture and resulted in death, and that senior officials either approved of the abuse or were deliberately indifferent to it," the suit said.
The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, The Center For Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The groups said this is the first suit seeking to force the government to disclose these records under FOIA.
They said that the only information that has been released since their FOIA request was a set of guidelines that State Department employees are to use when answering questions from reporters about the treatment of detainees. An ACLU lawyers said the guidelines emphasized that prisoners were being treated humanely.
The groups are asking the court to order the immediate release of records about the abuse of prisoners held at Abu Ghraib and other overseas detention facilities, the deaths of detainees in United States custody and the policies governing the interrogation of detainees in United States custody.
They also want information about the government's "rendering," or turning over, of detainees to countries known to use torture. The FOIA request cited reports that the United States is using the practice to sidestep domestic and international laws prohibiting such abuse.
"The administration's refusal to release these records in light of all we now know about rampant abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere is simply outrageous," said Jeffrey Fogel, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "The American public has a right to know what was condoned, by whom, and how far up the chain of command it went."
A spokesman for the Department of Defense could not immediately be reached and a spokesman for the Department of Justice had no comment.
(China Daily via agencies, June 3, 2004)