Federal court allows CIA to withhold information on torture

By Haley BeMiller, Contributor to cairchicago.org

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A legislative battle between the American Civil Liberties Union and CIA rages on after a federal court ruled that the CIA is not obligated to hand over documents detailing acts of torture within the system.

Back in 2003, the ACLU demanded records that illustrated the government’s use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques in the name of counterterrorism. They also sought a photograph of a detainee named Abu Zubaydah, who was supposedly exposed to such treatment.

However, because these documents are considered part of government intelligence, the court gave the CIA permission to withhold them. Any attempts to challenge the ruling will now have to go to the Supreme Court, according to a May 21 article at CNN.

“We are disheartened that an administration with a stated commitment to transparency has claimed the need to shield details about waterboarding despite publicly acknowledging that waterboarding is torture,” said a statement made by the ACLU.

According to an ACLU press release, the CIA once violated the terms of a Freedom of Information Act case in 2005 when they destroyed crucial videotapes in the midst of the case. These tapes depicted acts of torture, and while the CIA openly described them, they never released them.

“The ruling also grants the government the Orwellian authority to censor a photograph of a detainee because the photograph might reveal the detainee’s condition after being tortured,” the ACLU also claimed. “Were any other country to claim that national security required the suppression of details of torture, Americans would be rightfully shocked and incredulous.”

According to the ACLU, “waterboarding is not an intelligence method within the meaning of the exception to the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) law, because even the government itself admits that waterboarding is unlawful.” Because of this, the ACLU and other organizations maintain that arguments for privatized intelligence and national security are not as relevant.

“The court’s decision … jeopardizes the Freedom of Information Act and limits critical information that exposes violations of civil liberties,” said CAIR Chicago Communications Coordinator Aymen Abdel Halim. “The irony in this decision is that the Obama administration has publicly recognized waterboarding as torture, but has supported the CIA’s continued secrecy on their waterboarding of detainees.”

Abdel Halim added that despite Obama’s attempts at openness within the administration, the CIA continues to place a cloud of secrecy around crucial information regarding the detainees and why they’re being held.

“While there is no question that withholding specific information from the public is crucial to maintaining national security,” he added, “it becomes problematic when the information being withheld reveals violations of the law.”

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