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Profile: Alvin K. Hellerstein

Positions that Alvin K. Hellerstein has held:

  • US District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York

Alvin K. Hellerstein was a participant or observer in the following events:

After an oral argument in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein orders the Pentagon and other government agencies to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and provide the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups documents about detention and interrogation activities regarding prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. The government must comply by August 23, the court orders. [Reuters, 8/12/2004]

Entity Tags: American Civil Liberties Union, Alvin K. Hellerstein

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Alvin Hellerstein.Alvin Hellerstein. [Source: Associated Press]In 2003, after reports began to surface that some detainees in US custody had been abused, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records about the treatment of all detainees caught since 9/11 and held in US custody overseas. The ACLU eventually filed a lawsuit to get the records, and on September 15, 2004, judge Alvin Hellerstein orders the CIA and other government agencies to “produce or identify” all relevant documents by October 15, 2004. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007] Hellerstein also rules that classified documents must be identified in a written log and the log must be submitted to him for review. In December 2004, the CIA and other agencies make public a huge amount of information but fail to inform the judge about the videotapes and other classified information (see December 21, 2004). Since that time, the case remains delayed with stays, extensions, and appeals. In December 2005, the CIA will destroy videotapes of the interrogations of at least two high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees (see November 2005). After the destruction of the videotapes is publicly revealed in December 2007, the New York Times will comment on the ACLU case, “Some legal experts [say] that the CIA would have great difficulty defending what seemed to be a decision not to identify the tapes to the judge, and the subsequent decision to destroy the tapes.” [New York Times, 12/13/2007] Legal analyst John Dean will later comment, “It is difficult to see why the CIA is, in fact, not in contempt, given the nature of the [ACLU] request and the judge’s order.” He will suggest that the case may represent the best chance to find out why and how the CIA destroyed the videotapes. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007]

Entity Tags: Alvin K. Hellerstein, John Dean, Central Intelligence Agency, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Five agencies, under an agreement worked out by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, release approximately 9,000 pages of internal reports, investigations, and e-mails containing information about prisoner abuse in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The massive disclosure seemingly marks the end of a more than 13-month long effort (see October 7, 2003 and September 15, 2004) by five human rights groups to access the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents demonstrate that the abuses were far more widespread and systemic than previously acknowledged by the government. The documents include information about numerous abuses, such as threatened and mocked executions, thefts of private property, physical assaults, shocking detainees with electric guns, the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners at Guantanamo, shackling detainees without food and water, and murder. In many of the cases, the Army chose to punish offenders with non-criminal punishments rather than court-martial them. Reporting on the disclosure, the Washington Post notes, “The variety of the abuse and the fact that it occurred over a three-year period undermine the Pentagon’s past insistence… that the abuse occurred largely during a few months at [Abu Ghraib], and that it mostly involved detainee humiliation or intimidation rather than the deliberate infliction of pain.” [Washington Post, 12/22/2004] However, these agencies continue to secret hold back some material and in late 2005 the CIA will destroy videotapes of interrogations relevant to these requests (see November 2005).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alvin K. Hellerstein

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases several heavily redacted documents detailing the CIA’s use of waterboarding as well as a similarly redacted CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program. The documents are obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. In addition, Judge Alvin Hellerstein has “preliminarily overruled” CIA assertions that other documents it is withholding are exempt from the lawsuit. ACLU senior official Jameel Jaffer says: “Even a cursory glance at these heavily redacted documents shows that the CIA is still withholding a great deal of information that should be released. This information is being withheld not for legitimate security reasons but rather to shield government officials who ought to be held accountable for their decisions to break the law.”
OIG Report References Classified OLC Torture Memo - The OIG report contains references to an as-yet unreleased Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo from August 2002 authorizing an array of brutal interrogation methods (see August 1, 2002). (The OIG report calls the memo “unclassified.”)
As-Yet Unreleased Documents - If Hellerstein follows through on his preliminary ruling, the CIA could be forced to disgorge three more documents:
bullet A September 17, 2001 CIA presidential directive setting up secret CIA detention centers abroad (see September 17, 2001);
bullet An August 2002 OLC memo authorizing the CIA to use particular interrogation methods (see August 1, 2002);
bullet CIA documents gathered by the CIA’s inspector general in the course of investigations into unlawful and improper conduct by CIA personnel.
ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “We welcome the court’s preliminary ruling rejecting the CIA’s attempt to withhold records relating to its unlawful treatment of prisoners. If sustained, this ruling would be a historic victory that could compel the CIA to publicly disclose for the first time meaningful records relating to its use of torture.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/27/2008] The documents will be released two months later (see July 24, 2008).

Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, Alvin K. Hellerstein, American Civil Liberties Union, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Amrit Singh, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein regarding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit against the US Defense Department, the Justice Department informs Hellerstein that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of prisoner interrogations. The CIA’s previous admissions of the number of destroyed videotapes were far smaller (see November 2005). [Re: ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al, 3/2/2009 pdf file] The CIA confirms that the tapes showed what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on a number of detainees. The Justice Department adds that it will provide a list of summaries, transcripts, and memoranda related to the destroyed tapes, though the American Civil Liberties Union notes that a previous list was almost entirely redacted. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/6/2009] The disclosure comes as part of a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction. As the investigation comes to a close, observers expect that no charges will be filed against any CIA employees. The agency’s Directorate of Operations chief, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the recordings destroyed in November 2005 (see November 2005); former CIA Director Michael Hayden argued that the tapes posed “a serious security risk” because they contained the identities of CIA participants in al-Qaeda interrogations. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned. It is believed that the tapes show, among other interrogation sessions, the waterboarding of two detainees, Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)). Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are outraged at the destruction of the tapes. “The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident,” says Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It’s about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law,” she adds. CIA spokesman George Little says the destruction of the tapes was not an attempt to break the law or evade accountability. “If anyone thinks it’s agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don’t know the facts,” Little says. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that her panel intends to conduct a broader investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., US Department of Justice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, George Little, US Department of Defense, Alvin K. Hellerstein, Dianne Feinstein

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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