- NEW YORK (Reuters)
- The U.S. government has less than two weeks to start giving civil rights
groups documents about the torture of prisoners held by U.S. forces at
Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities, a federal judge ordered
- U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein expressed impatience
with the government and said prosecutors must start handing over certain
papers identified by the American Civil Liberties Union by Aug. 23 unless
they can show the documents cannot be found or they are subject to certain
- "The court expressed a desire that this be done
very quickly," said Lawrence Lustberg, a lawyer representing the civil
rights groups. "He put this on a very fast track."
- The ACLU and other civil rights groups sued the U.S.
government in June for what they said was the illegal withholding of records
about American military abuse of prisoners held in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay
and other locations.
- The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, charges that
the U.S. Departments of Defense and other federal agencies failed to comply
with a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request filed by the groups
in October 2003 and May 2004. The FOIA allows citizens access to public
- The plaintiffs are seeking records documenting torture
and abuse which they said has occurred since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks
on the United States.
- After they filed the first FOIA request in October, they
said, numerous news stories and photographs have documented mistreatment
of prisoners held in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- When the groups received no documents, they filed a motion
with the court last week seeking an order to force the government to comply
with their requests.
- "We've had ten months since the issuance of a FOIA
demand," said Hellerstein, adding that the government had not come
forward with any papers. "It's hard to believe not a single document
has been identified."
- Because the ACLU is seeking such a vast range of documents,
the judge told the parties to work out a "rolling" production
schedule in which the government can begin turning over papers on an incremental
basis starting on Aug. 23.
- Hellerstein's ruling follows a American Bar Association
vote condemning the torture of prisoners by U.S. forces.
- In its resolution, the ABA said the public has still
not been adequately informed of the extent to which prisoners have been
abused or given over to foreign government known to torture prisoners.
- It cited public concern that the current investigations
into abuse are moving too slowly and are too limited in scope.