Since 2004, the ACLU and its partners — the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace — have been litigating under the Freedom of Information Act for documents concerning the abuse of prisoners held by the Department of Defense and CIA. The litigation has produced thousands of pages of government documents, including the Justice Department torture memos that were released in April, the FBI emails that discussed the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo, and dozens of autopsy reports relating to the deaths of prisoners in the custody of the Defense Department.
To those of us who have been working on the lawsuit, though, the remarkable thing is not how much information has been released but how much is still being withheld. Six years after we filed our FOIA request, and five years after the Abu Ghraib photos were broadcast by CBS 60 Minutes, the Defense Department is still withholding photographs showing prisoners being abused at facilities other than Abu Ghraib as well as interrogation directives used by special forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The CIA is still withholding large segments of a crucial report written by the CIA’s Inspector General, transcripts in which prisoners describe the abuse they suffered at the hands of their CIA interrogators, and hundreds of documents relating to the destruction of videotapes showing CIA prisoners being waterboarded.
It’s clear that it will be months and perhaps years before we have anything that resembles a complete picture of how the torture policies were developed, on whose authority they were implemented, and what consequences they had for prisoners held by the military and CIA.
If it’s remarkable how much information is still being withheld, it’s even more remarkable how little has been done to address the information that has been released. Congress has convened no select committee. The Justice Department has inaugurated no criminal investigation other than a narrowly circumscribed one into incidents in which CIA interrogators exceeded the authority that had been invested in them by their superiors. The victims of the torture program have received no official acknowledgment, and the proposition that they should be compensated for the abuse they suffered at the hands of their interrogators is one that has no traction at all.
In an effort to fill at least some of this gap, the ACLU today launched a new online project that will attempt, over the next months, to give the full account of the Bush administration’s torture program, from its improvised origins to the systematized, lawyer-rationalized maltreatment of hundreds of prisoners in U.S. custody around the world. Published serially online, The Torture Report will bring together everything we now know from government documents, official investigations, press reports, photographs, witness statements, and testimonials into a single narrative — one that is updated dynamically and subject to critical review and improvement as it unfolds.
It will be a collaborative project. We have invited a group of expert contributors to offer comments and observations as new material appears. These contributors include Matthew Alexander, David Frakt, Glenn Greenwald, Joanne Mariner, Deborah Popowski, John Sifton, and Marcy Wheeler, as well as attorneys from the ACLU; their annotations will be viewable in line in the text. We are also inviting members of the public to contribute additional information and comments at the end of the chapter. As new sections are added to the Report, chapters already online will be edited, expanded, or amended to address or incorporate the most valuable suggestions and latest information.
President Obama has spoken eloquently about the importance of restoring America’s moral authority abroad. Restoring that moral authority, though, will require restoring the rule of law at home, and restoring the rule of law at home will require finally confronting the gross human rights abuses of the last administration. Crucial to this process will be the creation of a comprehensive and publicly accessible record of the last eight years. We’re hoping that The Torture Report will be an important part of that record.