Friday, June 10, 2011

Human Rights Groups Challenge Government Secrecy on the Use of Waterboarding

On June 10, 2011, the World Organization for Human Rights USA (Human Rights USA) joined with the Brennan Center for Justice and nine other human rights organizations filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to overturn a district court decision permitting the U.S. government to continue withholding information about its use of the illegal interrogation method of waterboarding.

The decision was issued in ACLU v. Department of Defense. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sought access under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding. The district court ruled against the ACLU, holding that the CIA had authority under the FOIA to withhold the information because it relates to “intelligence methods.”

On appeal, the ACLU argues that the FOIA does not permit the CIA to withhold information about the use of waterboarding – an interrogation technique that the United States has prosecuted as a war crime and that President Obama has declared to be torture, and therefore unlawful. The ACLU notes that since waterboarding is unlawful, it is outside the scope of the CIA’s charter and therefore, cannot be considered a valid “intelligence method” eligible for withholding under the FOIA.

In the brief filed in support of the ACLU’s appeal, the human rights groups detail the CIA’s history of conducting secret illegal or improper activities—from domestic surveillance to extraordinary rendition— as well as Congress’ repeated attempts to reign in the agency. The brief argues that although confidentiality may be necessary to protect legitimate methods of intelligence gathering, Congress has repeatedly made it clear that secrecy to conceal illegal CIA conduct is not in our nation’s interest.

Allison Lefrak, Litigation Director at Human Rights USA, stated, “Permitting the CIA to withhold information concerning unlawful conduct such as waterboarding would undermine the rule of law and remove one of the most important tools for ensuring government accountability for torture.”

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