Monday, August 31, 2009

ACLU Online News - national issues update

August 28, 2009 - ACLU Online News

Attorney General Holder Announces Appointment of Special Prosecutor to Investigate Torture

On Monday, the ACLU obtained the detailed official record of the CIA’s torture program.

>>Take action and learn more.

On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder made the long-awaited announcement of the appointment of a special prosecutor to conduct a preliminary investigation into whether federal laws were violated during the interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody.

Attorney General Holder said his decision to appoint a special prosecutor was in part influenced by the contents of a CIA inspector general report made public the same day as part of an ACLU lawsuit. The IG report documents in disturbing detail the level of the torture committed and the extent to which laws were broken.

As anyone who has seen the details of this appalling report can tell you, this investigation is necessary and long overdue, and Attorney General Holder should be commended for taking this important first step. However, the very limited scope of the investigation he launched is nowhere near as thorough and broad as the torture investigation America really needs.

According to early reports, prosecutor John Durham’s mandate will be limited to roughly a dozen cases in which CIA interrogators and contractors may have violated U.S. torture laws and other statutes. Moreover, Durham will conduct a 'preliminary' investigation meant to determine whether a full investigation is appropriate.

In addition to the long-awaited IG report, the ACLU also received more than 60 documents, dating from 2002 through 2007, in response to two ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for documents related to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody overseas. Included are memos, letters, and documents between the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the CIA about the torture and interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody.

Collectively, the OLC documents, along with the CIA Inspector General report, further underscore the need for a full investigation into the torture of prisoners and those who authorized it.

>>Take Action: Urge Attorney General Holder to conduct a thorough investigation of the Bush torture program.

>>Learn more about the documents released on Monday.

Rendition Program to Continue Under Obama’s Watch

On Monday, the Obama administration made the disappointing announcement that it would continue the Bush administration practice rendition -- the practice of kidnapping individuals suspected of terrorism and rendering them to other countries to be detained or interrogated -- but that it will monitor all cases to ensure that suspects are not mistreated.

As a party to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is under an absolute obligation not to commit torture or to facilitate its occurrence. By instituting a rendition program that relies on flimsy “diplomatic assurances,” the Obama administration is turning its back on U.S. obligations under the U.N. Convention.

The administration’s announcement forms part of the Justice Department’s new recommendations on the interrogation and transfer of individuals. The newly revamped rendition program would rely “on assurances from the receiving country” to prevent torture. These so-called “diplomatic assurances” -- written guarantees from the receiving state that a person would not be subject to torture -- are not a new concept. They were also employed by the Bush administration in the universally condemned “extraordinary rendition" program and proved singularly ineffective in preventing individuals from being tortured after transfer.

A rendition program with “diplomatic assurances” as its centerpiece will be ineffective at preventing torture. We urge the administration to uphold its absolute obligation to prevent torture. Any transfer it engages in must fully comply with domestic and international human rights law. Anything less will mark a return to the unlawful “extraordinary rendition” program.

>>Learn more about the ACLU’s work to end extraordinary rendition.

>>Learn more about the ACLU's work to defend human rights.

ACLU Mourns Senator Edward Kennedy

The ACLU this week mourns the passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy, a stalwart champion and defender of civil liberties with a record of public service marked by unending compassion and progress.

Sen. Kennedy often worked with the ACLU to defend the values and ideals inherent in the United States Constitution, fighting to ensure free speech, equality and justice for all people, particularly the disadvantaged. He consistently was the voice for the marginalized and fought in the Senate for those struggling to live free from discrimination throughout the country. Senator Kennedy’s leadership, courage, and compassion will echo throughout the halls of Congress for generations to come.

>> Learn more about Sen. Kennedy’s numerous legislative accomplishments.

Guantánamo Detainee Mohammed Jawad Returned Home To Afghanistan

ACLU client Mohammed Jawad was released from Guantánamo and returned to Afghanistan over the weekend, ending nearly seven years of illegal detention by the U.S. government.

In July, U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle granted Jawad's habeas corpus petition and ordered the Justice Department to release him, finding there was no credible evidence to continue holding him. Judge Huvelle had previously issued a ruling throwing out Jawad's supposed "confession" because it was the product of torture.

Two facts stood out with Jawad’s case. First, his age: he was a teenager, possibly as young as 12, when he was captured. And second, Jawad’s former lead military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, left the military commission in September 2008 because he did not believe he could ethically proceed with the case given Jawad's mistreatment and the lack of credible evidence against him.

"While Mr. Jawad's release is a long-awaited victory for the rule of law, there are many other detainees who are still being held illegally,” said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project and one of Jawad's lawyers in his habeas corpus case. “We are hopeful that the government will act swiftly to close Guantánamo and handle all of the remaining detainees in a manner consistent with America's Constitution and its values. Any detainee suspected of a crime must be charged and tried in the federal courts, which are fully capable of handling terrorism cases. After so many years, the government should have reliable, untainted evidence against any suspect it believes is guilty. If not, it has no justification to continue imprisoning him."

>>Learn more about Jawad's case.

Surrendering Your Fourth Amendment Rights at the Border

On Thursday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) demanding records about the CBP’s policy of searching travelers’ laptops without suspicion of wrongdoing.

The lawsuit was filed to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request filed in June requesting the criteria used for selecting passengers for suspicionless searches, the number of people who have been subject to the searches, the number of devices and documents retained and the reasons for their retention.

In the policy, the CBP asserts the right to read the information on travelers’ laptops "absent individualized suspicion," which means searching all files saved on laptops, including personal financial information, family photographs and lists of Web sites travelers have visited, without having any reason to believe a traveler has broken the law.

And after they’re done searching your laptop, they also reserve the right to search "documents, books, pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives and other electronic or digital storage devices."

This policy includes everyone crossing the border, whether they’re U.S. citizens or not.

Stay tuned for developments in this effort. In the meantime, if your laptop or electronic device has been searched at the border, let us know about it by emailing