ACLU Calls Abu Ghraib Scandal "Predictable Result" of U.S. Detention Policies; Asks Government to Comply With Information Request on Torture

May 11, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU Calls Abu Ghraib Scandal “Predictable Result” of U.S. Detention Policies; Asks Government to Comply With Information Request on Torture


WASHINGTON – In a letter to President Bush, the American Civil Liberties Union today called the prisoner abuses at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq a “predictable result” of American detention policies that have deliberately skirted the rule of law and American values.

The ACLU demanded in the letter that the government immediately comply with its seven-month-old Freedom of Information Act request for information on the reported torture of detainees held in the war on terrorism.

“Abu Ghraib wasn’t the result of a couple of lone sadists in the military – it was a direct and easily foreseen consequence of detention policies that lack transparency and safeguards against this type of abuse,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.

Today’s letter calls on administration officials to drop the “cloak of secrecy” surrounding its detention practices in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and elsewhere around the world, including in the United States. This undue secrecy, the ACLU said, coupled with the failure to follow the Geneva Conventions at Abu Ghraib, contributed directly to the unlawful interrogation techniques and torture of the Iraqi detainees.

A classified report by the International Committee for the Red Cross made public yesterday confirms these charges. According to the report, Red Cross delegates witnessed evidence that the abuses in Iraq were not the “wrongdoing of a few,” but a systemic campaign of mistreatment “tolerated” by coalition forces.

Given the horrific nature and scope of the abuses in Iraq, the ACLU’s letter said, it is imperative that the Bush administration comply with a Freedom of Information Act request on torture by U.S. forces, filed in October 2003 by the ACLU, Physicians for Human Rights and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Veterans groups also joined the FOIA request out of concern that brutal conduct by U.S. forces would boomerang into torture against U.S. forces.

The ACLU’s letter also noted that the sexual humiliation, assaults and psychological torment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, depicted in widely circulated digital photographs, began to occur after the head of interrogations at Guantánamo Bay decided to use procedures there as a baseline for Iraq. This was done even though, according to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, the Pentagon had classified Iraqi detainees as either prisoners of war or civilian internees entitled to the protection of the Geneva Conventions, while the Guantánamo detainees were being held as “unlawful combatants,” which the government claims does not entitle them to any legal protections.

The connection begs questions about how interrogations are conducted at the Guantánamo Bay facility and whether, as has been reported, detainees there are being subjected to mistreatment. The revelations at Abu Ghraib also shine new light on the 9/11 detainee abuses by the Justice Department, detailed in two internal reports by the department’s own inspector general.

In that instance, hundreds of Arab and Muslim men in the United States were rounded up under various pretexts in the weeks after the attacks, held for months until “cleared” by the FBI and denied access to lawyers. The inspector general also found that many of the men were physically abused by prison guards. In one case, detainees had their faces smashed against an American flag t-shirt with the motto “These colors don’t run!” which was hung on the wall. None was ever found to have any connection to 9/11.

“In America, the war on terrorism quickly became a war on immigrants, where the rule of law was ignored,” Romero said. “Abu Ghraib is just another example of what happens when the White House sets itself as above the law in national security matters. Not only is our sense of right and wrong offended, our safety is also endangered as the world turns against us.”

The ACLU’s letter includes several specific recommendations for reform. These include:

  • Immediate release of all remaining information, photographs and video connected to the Abu Ghraib scandal. The classified report on the abuses, prepared by Major General Anthony Taguba, should also be immediately made public.
  • Immediate and full cooperation with the ACLU request for information on torture at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
  • Immediate hearings for all U.S. detainees, including those held in Guantánamo Bay, to determine their legal status under the Geneva Conventions.
  • Universal application of either the Third or Fourth Geneva Conventions to all detainees, be they prisoners of war or “unlawful combatants.”
  • An immediate end to the use of military police to “set the conditions” for favorable interrogations.
  • The approval of snap inspections of U.S. detention facilities by third parties, including the Red Cross.
  • Removal of any absolute ban on photography at U.S. detention facilities (like the one recently put in place at Abu Ghraib). American soldiers should be encouraged to document and report abuses, as happened in the Iraq scandal.
  • Review of the administration’s policies permitting the military detention of “enemy combatants” to ensure that such detentions are limited to true war circumstances and do not serve to shield government from scrutiny in criminal cases or judicial review.

“While the policies that led to this abuse rest squarely at the feet of the president, the American people must demand that Congress take concrete action,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “It should, for instance, condition additional funds for the Iraq War on compliance with the requirements of the Geneva Conventions and fundamental fairness.”

The ACLU’s letter to the president is online at:

More information on the ACLU FOIA request on torture is online at:

The ACLU National Prison Project’s statement about the rape and torture of U.S. prisoners is online at:

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