Is Obama poised to continue some parts of Bush's torture policies?

Yesterday’s news out of the Justice Department in which it indicated support for Bush’s rendition program (i.e. exit visa for torture outside of US) was horrifying. I really don’t know what to make of it. I’m not a lawyer, so was kinda hoping it wasn’t as bad as it sounded.

But here’s what the lawyers think:

From the Desk of Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director, ACLU
Just as we’re in court challenging the government’s use of the “state secrets” doctrine, we must also confront the doctrine on Capitol Hill.

Dear ACLU Supporter,

Yesterday, ACLU lawyers encountered a recurring — and troubling –obstacle in our lawsuit seeking justice for torture victims caught up in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. But this time, the objections were not coming from the Bush administration.

To our surprise and disappointment, the new Justice Department urged a federal appeals court to dismiss our lawsuit charging a Boeing subsidiary with providing critical support for the CIA’s rendition program based on the same “state secrets” claim that the Bush administration had repeatedly invoked to avoid any judicial scrutiny of its actions. During the course of the argument, one judge asked twice if the change in administration had any bearing on the Justice Department’s position. The attorney for the government said that its position remained the same.

This isn’t the kind of change we need if we want an America we can be proud of again.

If the judges rule in the government’s favor, our clients — who were tortured as part of the government’s rendition program –will never get their day in court.

We’re still hoping the court will rule in our favor and allow our case to move forward. But, in the meantime, we must do everything we can to end the abuse of the “state secrets” doctrine both in the courts and on Capitol Hill.

Senators Kennedy, Leahy, Specter and Representative Nadler introduced legislation in 2008 to narrow the scope of the state secrets privilege — and open the courthouse doors to people who have suffered real and legitimate harm by the government. Clearly, this legislation is needed now more than ever.

Send a message to these members of Congress to let them know you support the State Secrets Protection Act.

This crucial civil liberties bill recognizes the need to take precautions when it comes to national security. But, it also acknowledges that courts have been competently managing the balance between the security of classified information and the right to a fair trial in criminal cases for years. And, most important of all, it makes it much more difficult for the government to abuse the state secrets doctrine to escape accountability for illegal behavior.

We can’t allow any administration to invoke state secrets to hide a reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations.

Send a message to support the State Secrets Protection Act.

Yesterday, the Obama administration had an opportunity to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition. But, instead, the Justice Department opted to stay the course.

Now, we must hope that the court will assert its independence, reject the government’s false claims of state secrets, and allow victims of torture and rendition their day in court.

Thanks for standing with us as we work to pursue justice on this critical civil liberties issue.


Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director

P.S. The ACLU has been working on this case for years. To learn more about rendition and the people impacted, watch our short video.

© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004

And here’s another ACLU spokesperson on the Rachel Maddow Show tonight. (It’s preceded by Rachel and Kent Jones doing a little silly bit of “comedy” on the issue, which in my opinion was inappropriate for the seriousness of the problem, and not funny. But it’s the only video I could find posted this soon after the show.)

Debra Sweet from World Can’t Wait is also sounding the alarm:

Why Should the U.S. Government’s Right to Secrecy Trump the Right of People Not to be Tortured?

Binyam Mohamed is no longer a non-person, even though he’s still in Guantanamo.  After being flown around the world by the CIA, and tortured in both Pakistan and Morocco, he’s fighting the torture.  Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have direct testimony of torture from the five who were transported in CIA sponsored flights by Jeppesen Datalan, a subsidiary of Boeing, and testimony to show that employees of Jeppesen knew they were planning flights in what has become known infamously as the “Torture Taxi.”

Yesterday, the ACLU represented Mohamed and 4 other men who were tortured and “rendered” by the CIA in the US Court of Appeals, 9th District in San Francisco.  The Bush administration had gotten a judge to throw out the men’s lawsuit against “extraordinary rendition.”  The ACLU and others hoped that the Obama administration would not stand on “national security” and let the suit go forward.

But no.  The New York Times reports today, “the Obama administration seemed to surprise a panel of federal appeals judges on Monday by pressing ahead with an argument for preserving state secrets originally developed by the Bush administration.”  The ACLU provided testimony from Mohamed that, “he was routinely beaten, suffering broken bones and, on occasion, loss of consciousness. His clothes were cut off with a scalpel and the same scalpel was then used to make incisions on his body, including his penis. A hot stinging liquid was then poured into open wounds on his penis where he had been cut. He was frequently threatened with rape, electrocution and death.”

The World Can’t Wait continues to demand an end to torture carried on directly by the United States or its allies; the overturning of the Military Commissions Act and “enhanced” interrogation whether carried out by U.S. military, CIA, private contractors, or allied governments’ the closure of Guantanamo, Bagram and other indefinite detention facilities controlled by the United States. It believes that the rights of the people to be free of government spying supersede the secrecy rights of the government.  FULL statement here

And to repeat the action part from ACLU:

Send a message to support the State Secrets Protection Act.