NEW YORK – A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the CIA to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and turn over to watchdog groups records concerning the treatment of prisoners in Iraq.
The spy agency also was given the option of explaining better why it cannot release the documents.
“Congress has set the laws, and it is the duty of executive agencies to comply with them,” U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein wrote.
It was the second time in six months that the judge suggested the government was impeding the American Civil Liberties Union’s quest to monitor government actions in the war on terrorism.
The ACLU filed its lawsuit in October 2003 seeking information on treatment of detainees in U.S. custody and the transfer of prisoners to countries known to use torture. The group is seeking the records to show that prisoner abuse by the United States is “not aberrational but systemic.”
The CIA had claimed a provision in the Freedom of Information Act law allowed it to retain files pertaining to national security issues or state secrets.
The judge said the CIA did not follow proper procedure to claim that exception, which requires a declaration by the CIA director.
ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said he was interested in the CIA’s documents because there have been credible allegations about the agency’s role in the abuse and torture of detainees.
“What we want is to get this information into the public domain as quickly as possible,” he said. “I’m hopeful that just bringing some of this activity to light will convince the government to change its policies.”
Megan Gaffney, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, which represents the CIA in the case, had no immediate comment.