Torture FOIA: ACLU, CCR, et al. v. Dept. of Defense, et al. Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

On August 19, 2011, plaintiffs filed a reply brief for the Second Circuit appeal challenging the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) withholding of documents describing waterboarding as an intelligence source or method. Also, on August 1, 2011, plaintiffs argued before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that the CIA should be held in contempt for the destruction of videotapes, flouting a court order to release them. Judge Hellerstein declined to find the CIA in contempt for the destruction of the videotapes but did order the CIA to pay attorney's fees as a sanction.

Date Filed: 

June 2, 2004

Co-Counsel 

American Civil Liberties Union, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace

Case Description 

ACLU, CCR, et al. v. Dept. of Defense, et al. is a lawsuit that charges the Department of Defense and other government agencies with illegally withholding records concerning the abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The lawsuit was filed after the DOD and other defendants refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in October 2003. The complaint charges that the failure to comply constitutes a deliberate and unlawful withholding of information from the public and demands that the government release the requested records. The only record that the government had released in response to the FOIA request was a set of media talking points used by the State Department. The Department of Defense also refused to expedite the processing of the FOIA request and argued that a failure to do so would not “endanger the life or safety of any individual.”

The complaint made by CCR noted, "Photographs and videos leaked to the press have established beyond any doubt that detainees held in Iraq have been subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment. The government has conceded that numerous detainees have died in custody; at least sixteen of these deaths have been classified as homicides. There is growing evidence that the abuse of detainees was not aberrational but systemic, that in some cases the abuse amounted to torture and resulted in death, and that senior officials either approved of the abuse or were deliberately indifferent to it."

CCR represents clients with a direct interest in obtaining records concerning the abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody. Therefore, the suit seeks an injunction requiring the Departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and Justice as well as the CIA to immediately process and release all records requested in the October 2003 FOIA, including: records of the abuse or torture of detainees held at Abu Ghraib and other overseas detention facilities, and records of investigations and inquiries into that abuse; records of the deaths of detainees in United States custody, including records of investigations and inquiries into those deaths; policies governing the interrogation of detainees in United States custody; policies governing the "rendition" of detainees to countries known to use torture; and records describing any measures taken by the government to address concerns expressed by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Case Timeline

June 2, 2004
Complaint filed.
June 2, 2004
Complaint filed.

For more information on past and recent developments in the case, please see co-counsel's in-depth case Web page.