Sat, Aug 14, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Court orders US to release torture files

REUTERS , New York

The US government must start providing civil-rights groups with documents about the torture of prisoners held by US forces at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities within two weeks, a federal judge ordered on Thursday.

US 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 (ACLU) by Aug. 23 unless they can show the documents cannot be found or they are subject to certain exemptions.

"The court expressed a desire that this be done very quickly," said Lawrence Lustberg, a lawyer representing the civil-rights groups.

The ACLU and other civil-rights groups sued the US government in June for what they said was the illegal withholding of records about US military abuse of prisoners held in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and other locations.

The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, charges that the US Department of Defense and other federal agencies failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the groups last October and May this year. The FOIA allows citizens access to public federal records.

The plaintiffs are seeking records documenting torture and abuse which they said has occurred since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US. After they filed the first FOIA request last 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.

Hellerstein's ruling follows an American Bar Association vote condemning the torture of prisoners by US forces.

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