Rights Groups Seek Information on Detainees’ Treatment
Several civil liberties and veterans groups plan to file a formal request with the federal government today seeking information on whether prisoners in U.S. custody in the war on terrorism have been tortured or mistreated during interrogations.
The request, to be filed under the Freedom of Information Act, follows media reports that U.S. authorities have used questionable techniques, including sleep deprivation and the withholding of medications, against prisoners held abroad in the war on terrorism.
The American Civil Liberties Union and four other groups, including Physicians for Human Rights and Veterans for Peace, are seeking records pertaining to the treatment of detainees held in U.S. custody as well as to those who have been handed over to other countries for interrogation, according to the ACLU. Use of coercive interrogation techniques would constitute clear violations of both domestic and international law, the groups say.
“The president and a number of senior officials have assured the public that the United States is committed to international law,” said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU attorney. “This provides the government with an opportunity to flesh that out a little, to explain to us what they’re doing and to assure us that detainees are not being mistreated.”
After a series of incidents and reports raised questions about the treatment of detainees, the Bush administration pledged in June that the United States would not torture terrorism suspects or treat them cruelly in an attempt to extract information.
Last December, The Washington Post cited former and current national security officials in reporting that detainees in Afghanistan and elsewhere were routinely subjected to “stress and duress” techniques, including being held in awkward positions or being deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights. In other cases, The Post reported, captives have been handed over to foreign intelligence services known for using questionable interrogation tactics — including Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.
Prisoners released from the military camps at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Bagram air base in Afghanistan have said in interviews with Amnesty International that they were subjected to human rights abuses, including sleep deprivation and forced injections of drugs. Two deaths at Bagram in December 2002 are also under investigation after being classified as homicides by military pathologists.
The ACLU and other groups have been largely unsuccessful in attempts to obtain details from the Bush administration about detainees in the war on terrorism. In June, for example, a federal appeals court upheld the government’s refusal to release the names of hundreds of people detained domestically after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Jaffer said the request for information to be filed today has been crafted to avoid requiring the government to release too much sensitive information. Instead, Jaffer said, the groups are primarily seeking details of the policies governing humane treatment of prisoners held abroad and how any cases of abuse have been handled.
“We’re not asking for a list of names of people detained or a list of the types of interrogation methods used by the U.S.,” he said.