By Lucy Seyfarth
Today a group of human rights organizations, including Human Rights First, released a letter to the Secretary of Defense and Attorney General calling on them to reconsider a recent decision by Guantanamo Bay authorities refusing to declassify information regarding the treatment of Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah, a Saudi detainee being tried in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, was featured heavily in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture. According to the report, the CIA isolated Zubaydah for 47 days and later subjected him to forced nudity, walling, confinement, stress positions, and repeated waterboarding.
Until recently the entire CIA interrogation program was fully classified, resulting in bizarre restrictions. Not only were interrogators and CIA officials not allowed to talk about the program, but detainees themselves were banned from discussing their own treatment. Despite the fact that many detainees suffer serious psychological and physical consequences from their abuse, they were forced into silence to protect the agency that tortured them.
Fortunately a recent military commission case overturned this standard, holding that “conditions of confinement” and “treatment” of detainees in CIA custody no longer constituted classified information. This came in the aftermath of the release of the Senate’s torture report, which described the conditions of confinement and treatment of detainees in detail.
But on September 10, the media reported that the Guantanamo Bay Privilege Team, the unit that decides what materials related to the detainees are classified, was still refusing to allow declassification of information about Zubaydah’s treatment in CIA custody.
Not only does this decision conflict with earlier rulings, but it makes no sense. The Senate report has already described detainee treatment in detail (though it was unable to contain any detainees’ personal accounts.) The administration’s classification rules also apply only to information produced by or in control of the government—presumably excluding detainees’ own thoughts and memories. Forcing torture victims not to discuss their treatment in order to protect their torturers is beyond cruel.
Human Rights First, along with the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Center for Victims of Torture, the Constitution Project, Human Rights Watch, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, OpenTheGovernment.org, and Physicians for Human Rights, call upon the Secretary of Defense and Attorney General to reverse this order and allow Zubaydah to release information about his treatment. This is the correct course under the law and a crucial step towards transparency for the CIA torture program. Only the truth can lead to justice and peace.