Monday, April 28, 2008

National news - ACLU in the movies, more action on CIA torture, death penalty news and more.

April 26, 2008

ACLU Demands Immediate Release of Inspector General Report on FBI's Role in Illegal Interrogations

On the heels of President Bush directly admitting that the White House was deeply and intimately involved in decisions about the CIA’s use of torture, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request this week with the Departments of Justice and Defense for the release of a report on a long-running investigation of the FBI's role in the unlawful interrogations of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay.

The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) launched the investigation after internal government documents - uncovered by an ACLU lawsuit - revealed that FBI agents stationed at Guantánamo Bay expressed concern after witnessing military interrogators' use of brutal interrogation techniques.

According to recent media reports, the OIG investigation has been completed for months. The Defense Department, however, has blocked the OIG from releasing it, claiming that the report still needs to be reviewed and redacted by the Pentagon.

The OIG investigation was initiated in 2005 after the ACLU obtained documents in which FBI agents described interrogations that they had witnessed at Guantánamo Bay.

While the documents were most notable for their description of illegal interrogation methods used by military interrogators, they also raised serious questions about the FBI's participation in abusive interrogations, the actions of FBI personnel who witnessed abusive interrogations, and the response of FBI officials to reports of abuse.

The OIG report and all documents related to this investigation is part of a broader ACLU effort to uncover information about the Bush administration's torture policies. To date, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's FOIA lawsuit enforcing the request - including the Bush administration's 2003 "torture memo" written by John Yoo when he was a deputy at the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel.

>> Read the documents received in the ACLU's FOIA litigation.

Documents Obtained By ACLU Describe Charges of Murder and Torture of Prisoners in Afghanistan

>> Say 'no' to torture. Take Action.

Recently released documents from the Department of Defense confirm the military’s use of unlawful interrogation methods on detainees held in U.S. custody in Afghanistan. The documents from the military’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID), obtained as a result of the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, include the first on-the-ground reports of torture in Gardez, Afghanistan to be publicly released.

“These documents make it clear that the military was using unlawful interrogation techniques in Afghanistan,” said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU. “They raise serious questions about the adequacy of the military’s investigations into prisoner abuse.”

The documents reveal charges that Special Forces beat, burned, and doused eight prisoners with cold water before sending them into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in U.S. custody in March 2003.

In late 2004, the military opened a criminal investigation into charges of torture at Gardez. Despite numerous witness statements describing the evidence of torture, the military’s investigation concluded that the charges were unsupported. It also concluded that Naseer’s death was the result of a “stomach ailment,” even though no autopsy had been conducted in his case. Documents uncovered today also refer to sodomy committed by prison guards; the victims’ identities are redacted.

>> Learn more and read the documents online.

Supreme Court Upholds Lethal Injection in Kentucky

The ACLU is profoundly disappointed with last week’s 7-2 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the controversial three drug lethal injection method of capital punishment used in Kentucky and other states. The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Baze v. Rees, an appeal by two men on Kentucky's death row.

The Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment has long prohibited the imposition of gratuitous pain. The most commonly used method of lethal injection violates that prohibition by using a sequence of drugs that creates an unnecessary risk of excruciating pain, and, for that reason, is prohibited by most veterinary guidelines. In its amicus brief, the ACLU points out that this unconstitutional practice has been facilitated by the secrecy surrounding the development and implementation of lethal injection protocols in most states.

"The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in no way addresses the most fundamental question surrounding the death penalty: should we retain a punishment that is fraught with error and infected with racial, class and geographic discrimination, and which is irrevocable, cost-prohibitive and extremely harmful to the survivors of homicide victims?” said John Holdridge, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. “The answer remains no."

>> Learn more on the work of the Capital Punishment Project.

Take Action: Ensure Due Process for the Incarcerated

This week marks the 12th anniversary of a law very few have ever heard of, but one that has left a powerful impact on the lives of one of the United States’ most marginalized and vulnerable populations: the 2.3 million individuals serving time in prison.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) was originally enacted to stem the tide of “frivolous” prisoner lawsuits that advocates of the legislation felt were needlessly flooding our federal courts. In reality, the PLRA has effectively closed the courthouse doors on prisoners seeking a fair hearing on violations of their religious, due process, free speech, and other fundamental constitutional rights, as well as cases of serious physical and sexual abuse.

The need for Congress to remedy the unintended consequences of PLRA is especially critical as our nation’s prison system reaches a state of crisis. Just this week, the New York Times reported that although the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population, we have almost a quarter of its prisoners.In fact, 1 in every 100 American adults are behind bars and, as state budgets continue to shrink, conditions of confinement get worse every day. In California’s prisons, for example, a prisoner dies every 6 or 7 days as a result of inadequate medical care.

As time goes on and serious rights abuses mount and go unheard, the need to fix the PLRA becomes even more urgent. Congress held a hearing this week on the Prison Abuse Remedies Act (H.R. 4109). This important bill would bring some much needed and long overdue reform to the PLRA.

>> Take Action: Please email your members of Congress today and urge them to restore the rule of law to our nation’s prisons.

The ACLU at the Movies

In The Visitor, an American college professor and a young immigrant couple grapple with the treatment of immigrants and the legal process post-9/11.

Participant Media, one of the companies behind the film, has organized a social action campaign focusing on the film’s underlying themes of illegal detention, treatment of immigrants and the legal challenges immigrants face. The ACLU has supported the campaign by leading discussions at special screenings across the country.

>> Learn more about the movie.
>> Learn more about the ACLU’s work on immigrant rights.

The ACLU has also allied with Participant Media in their social action campaign around Standard Operating Procedure, a new documentary from award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris. The film is based on the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs and how they exposed rampant abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American guards. The film opens on Friday, April 25th in NY and will expand to more cities in the coming weeks.

>> Listen to ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer’s discussion with Errol Morris.
>> Learn more about the ACLU’s work to stop torture.