ACLU Calls for Release of Three Secret Torture Memos

American Civil Liberties Union

December 5, 2007 – The American Civil Liberties Union is in court today calling for the release of three documents issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that are believed to have authorized the CIA to use extremely harsh interrogation methods. The government failed to identify or provide the memos, which were issued in May of 2005, in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the ACLU requesting information on U.S. treatment and interrogation of detainees.

“This is yet another example of the government’s attempt to bypass legal prohibitions on torture and while engaging in a cover-up of its illegal conduct,” said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.  “These memos must immediately be released to the public and high level officials must be held accountable for their role in spawning torture and prisoner abuse.”

The New York Times disclosed the existence of the first two memos in a front-page article on October 4, 2007. The Times reported that the first memo explicitly authorized interrogators to use combinations of harsh interrogation methods including waterboarding, head slapping, and exposure to freezing temperatures. The second memo, issued by OLC as Congress prepared to enact legislation prohibiting “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” declared that none of the CIA’s interrogation methods violated that standard.    

“Through these memos, the Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both U.S. and international law,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “It’s clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.”

The memos, which were authored in May of 2005,  were not included in the government’s response to the ACLU’s FOIA request for all documents pertaining to the treatment and interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody. The government also withheld the documents from key senators during a congressional inquiry. 

The ACLU filed legal papers on October 24 objecting to the omission of the two memos and requesting their release. In response, the government filed papers that revealed the existence of a third memo issued by the OLC pertaining to the treatment of detainees by the CIA. The ACLU is in court today requesting the release of all three OLC documents.  Melanca Clark of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C., which is co-counsel with the ACLU on the FOIA lawsuit, will argue the motion before U.S. District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York. 

The ACLU’s brief requesting production of outstanding documents is online at:

The government’s response to the ACLU’s brief is online at:

The ACLU’s reply in support of the request for production is online at:

More information on the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody and an index of documents received by the ACLU in its FOIA lawsuit is online at:

Many of these documents are also contained and summarized in Administration of Torture, a recently published book by Jaffer and Singh. More information is available online at:

Attorneys in the FOIA case are Lawrence S. Lustberg and Melanca D. Clark of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons P.C.; Jaffer, Singh and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the New York Civil Liberties Union; and Shayana Kadidal and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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