Monday, December 20, 2010


By William Fisher

“Diplomatic assurances” -- promises not to torture -- are sought by a government when it is transferring a detainee to the custody of another government. In the past, such assurances have often proved worthless; they have come from countries that have a long history of brutality against prisoners.

And, according to a new report from the Columbia University law school’s Human Rights Clinic, the U.S. is continuing to follow the same protocol. The result may well be further prisoner abuse because the government’s approach to transfers lacks institutional safeguards –“transparency, judicial review and systematic monitoring.”

For that reason, many human rights experts argue that a crucial part of the “war on terror” is being waged with “blissful ignorance.”

The report – “Promises to Keep” – says the U.S. may send a terror suspect to another country with a supposed promise that the detainee will be treated humanely. “Not surprisingly, it often doesn’t work out that way. The government knows this, and yet it’s still trying to move detainees out of the country.”

The report was written by Naureen Shah, a counterterrorism policy expert and lawyer at Columbia.

At his 2009 confirmation hearing to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Leon Panetta told Congress that, “using renditions, we may very well direct individuals to third countries.” Referring to past cases where assurances were used, Panetta said: “I will seek the same kind of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely. I intend to use the State Department to assure that those assurances are, in fact, implemented and stood by those countries.”

But that is precisely the procedure that has been followed since the Clinton Administration – and which has produced some of the most heinous examples of torture and even death in detention.

The report notes that the Obama administration “initially signaled an interest in reforming its transfer and assurances practices. An interagency task force established in January 2009 recommended better monitoring and State Department involvement in evaluating assurances in all cases.” But it adds that “the government has not announced any steps to implement its recommendations.”

It notes that, “as this report went to print, the offices of Inspector General of the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense were in the process of reviewing assurances practice.”

While the government has suggested that it has wide discretion over how and when to use assurances, as well as whether to disclose that use, “it has provided next to no information about its minimum standards and
protocols for negotiating assurances, monitoring returned individuals and responding to allegations of abuse.”

“It has refused to acknowledge past breaches of assurances or provide redress to victims. In litigation, it has argued that disclosure would jeopardize US foreign policy interests and the government’s ability to negotiate assurances in future cases,” the report adds.

The report says the “strongest message” from the 2010 Wikileaks situation is that “US diplomats take protection against torture seriously but that individual efforts are not sufficient.”

It notes that “from the trickle of cables released on Wikileaks, more details are emerging, documenting both the scrupulous efforts of individual diplomats and the specific failures of particular assurances. While more details of specific cases will certainly emerge, thus far the leaks simply reinforce the need for clear policies and broader transparency to ensure appropriate vetting and accountability.”

Several cables released in December 2010 reference the efforts by the US to transfer detainees from Guantanamo, the report says. “The cables show how the US resisted Chinese and Tunisian diplomatic pressure to repatriate their nationals because of concerns that the detainees would be mistreated.”

“The US even had to resist Chinese and Tunisian pressures on other governments not to accept their nationals for resettlement,” the report says, adding, “One cable shows the US ambassador to Tunisia acknowledging credible reports that an already repatriated Tunisian national was mistreated. The ambassador also rejects Tunisia’s claims that the International Committee of the Red Cross had access to Tunisian prisons.”

Other leaked cables reveal that US diplomats offered financial and political incentives to foreign governments to safely resettle Guantanamo detainees, including a rejected “incentive package” of USD $3 million and promises of US help in obtaining International Monetary Fund assistance, the report claims.

The potential recipient governments appeared most concerned about public reaction in their own countries or foreign policy considerations such as risking China’s ire for resettling its nationals held at Guantanamo. But “none expressed concern about judicial review or public scrutiny of the assurances.”

The report notes that leading human rights advocates have condemned the practice of relying on assurances. “According to them, assurances are inherently unreliable in countries that have already demonstrated their willingness to torture in violation of local and international law.”

But the report concludes that “whatever the doubts about their ultimate effectiveness…there are clearly better and worse ways of employing assurances: they can serve as the cynical, legalistic veneer to a conscious abdication of responsibility, or a sincere effort to diminish the likelihood of an individual’s mistreatment.”

“From the past decade, there is evidence of the cynical, the sincere and much that falls in between, where mistakes or incompetence make the motives irrelevant,” the report says.

“In their first known use after 9/11, Sweden obtained vague assurances from Egypt that it would respect the rights of two asylum seekers returned to Egypt by a team of masked US commandos. Swedish diplomats waited five weeks before checking on the detainees and, then, did so in the presence of prison officials,” the report declares.

“For the US the first government acknowledgment of assurances after 9/11 was made to deflect responsibility for the alleged torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen whom the US transferred to Syria. Years later, it emerged that the State Department had dismissed any concerns about the transfer without bothering to review the conditions.”

In the Arar case, the State Department failed to play any significant role, the report says. In summary proceedings, Arar, a Canadian citizen, was removed from the US and ultimately transferred to the custody of Syrian intelligence officials, who tortured Arar despite providing assurances to the US government.

Though the State Department denied involvement in the case, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage acknowledged that he had a “brief—only two to three minutes, and casual” conversation about Arar with then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who asked whether he had any “foreign policy objections” to removing Arar to Syria. According to Armitage, his “only concern was whether Mr. Arar was a United States citizen,” adding that “Syria was helping us with Al Qaeda.”

And in the 2006 extradition of Kulbir Singh Barapind, a Sikh separatist who feared torture by local police, by whom he had previously been tortured, the “US State Department made passing reference to an earlier case where there had been credible reports of torture.“ The Department was “unable authoritatively to confirm” whether the individuals were tortured.

“The State Department’s analysis did not address whether the police officers who previously tortured Barapind still held positions of authority or whether the central government authorities giving the assurances had the ability to supervise or control the state police. Instead, the State Department relied on the existence of Indian laws prohibiting torture—laws that were in place when Barapind was previously tortured,” the report declared.

The report said, “These examples could be treated as unfortunate gaffes committed by pressured officials operating in a difficult environment without clear instructions. Both Canada and Sweden were forced to respond robustly. A public inquiry in Canada led the government to apologize to Arar and pay CAD $10.5 million in damages. The early disclosures have led US allies to expose the practice to public debate and judicial scrutiny.”

But the United States has never publicly acknowledged fault or a need to improve, the report notes, adding:

“The US continues to maintain broad secrecy about its current practice while insisting that others trust it to respect the law and do the right thing. The US government hints publicly at improvements in internal processes while claiming that frank disclosure and judicial review—now extensive in Europe and Canada—are unnecessary and counterproductive.

Disclosing the process or text of assurances would harm diplomatic relations, according to US officials, and judicial review would undermine the ability of the US government to ‘speak with one voice,’ the report says.

Diplomatic assurances are also used in some immigration cases. In those cases, the US does not acknowledge the right of the individual to challenge the assurances, the report says.

In one immigration case, the report details, the government terminated the “deferral of removal” of Sami Khouzam, a Coptic Christian facing persecution in Egypt, on the basis of Egyptian assurances it received in 2004. But it did not inform Khouzam of the termination of his status—and his loss of protection—until May 2007, three days before he was arrested and detained in preparation for imminent removal. In 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that by failing to provide Khouzam any opportunity to challenge his removal, the government violated his due process rights.

Rigorous and systematic State Department scrutiny is a crucial safeguard, particularly in the absence of judicial review, the report suggests.

“At least since 2005, the US government has solicited assurances of humane treatment in the transfer of every individual out of Guantanamo. It has declined to repatriate detainees to home countries due to their records on torture or reports of mistreatment to previously returned detainees, including China, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. In the case of China and Tunisia, it has resisted intense diplomatic pressure by foreign diplomats to repatriate their nationals,” the report notes, but adds:

“Publicly, the government has refused to acknowledge cases of breached assurances, including its failure to ensure effective post-return monitoring, or foreclose the option of repatriating nationals to home countries with records of torture. This leaves the 33 Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release but who face such repatriation in limbo.”

“Even as the government seeks to negotiate their resettlement in safe third countries, in courts, it has argued that its authority to repatriate them is absolute and unfettered by judicial review, as long as it declares the transfer compatible with US policy against torture,” the report says.

In July 2010, the US Supreme Court acceded to government arguments against judicial review, refusing to block the transfers of two Algerian detainees who feared mistreatment by government authorities or extremists. UN experts Manfred Nowak and Martin Scheinin condemned the decision, saying they were “extremely worried that the lives of two Algerian detainees could be put in danger without a proper assessment of the risks they could face if returned against their will to their country of origin.”

“This could become the first involuntary transfers of Guantanamo detainees of the Obama administration,” the UN experts said. “While we appreciate the efforts of the authorities to close the Guantánamo detention facility, the risk assessment should be a meaningful and fair process, and the courts should be part of it.”

Individuals picked up by US forces in Afghanistan face abuse or prolonged detention without trial when transferred to Afghan custody or repatriated home. US transfers in Afghanistan occur in various contexts: short-term US detention and transfer to Afghan intelligence; transfers of Afghan nationals held for longer periods at US-run facilities; and possible repatriations of non-Afghan nationals.

The US International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) transfers apprehended individuals to the Afghan intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS), which is notorious for abuse. In 2007, the US joined Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark in signing an exchange of letters with the Afghan government intended to establish a common approach to these “battlefield transfers.” But the UK and Canada have both experienced problems with monitoring the treatment of transferred detainees, and there are credible reports that torture has occurred on a large scale.

As of winter 2010, the US was pursuing a bilateral agreement with the Afghan government about a new monitoring arrangement, expected to be in place within months, but the details were unknown.

USFOR-A (non-ISAF US forces) may hold individuals detained by its ISAF forces for up to 14 days. US authorities assess whether the individuals should be released, transferred to Afghan authorities or sent to the US detention facility at Parwan, which was opened in 2009 to replace the Bagram Theater Internment Facility.

At present, the report says, there are about 1,000 detainees at Parwan. “As the US prepares to transfer the Parwan facility to Afghan authorities in 2011, detainees there face the prospect of prolonged pre-trial detention and the possibility of unfair trials, given the poor condition of the Afghan criminal justice system,” the report warns, adding: “The 50 or fewer non-Afghan nationals at Parwan may be repatriated to their home countries or held in some other US facility in Afghanistan—US plans, and the role of assurances, are unknown.”

The US has also conducted renditions—transfers outside of legal process— but the frequency of these practices, their legal basis and the role of assurances is unclear. The US has conducted renditions to justice,” or kidnappings for the purpose of delivering individuals to criminal prosecution in foreign countries since before 9/11.

Former CIA official Michael Scheuer told Congress in 2007 that under the Clinton administration, the US sought assurances that each foreign government would treat captured al-Qaeda “fighters” according to “its own laws.” But according to Scheuer, “[t]here [were] no qualms at all about sending people to Cairo and kind of joking up our sleeves about what would happen to those people in Cairo—Egyptian prison.”

The US has also conducted, directed or assisted in “extraordinary renditions” -- transferring individuals without legal process for the purpose of interrogation or detention. Individuals have been held in secret US-run facilities, delivered to foreign authorities, or held in camps ostensibly run by foreign authorities but directed and funded by the US government, the report notes.

Key human rights experts and tribunals have expressed skepticism about the reliability of assurances, and articulated circumstances under which they should not be used. “But this non-categorical approach has left the door open to experimentation, including by the UK and Canada, which, like the US, have used assurances in deportations and transfers in Afghanistan. Their experiences demonstrate both the persistent deficiencies of assurances and the feasibility of better practice by the US,” the report says.

It notes that countries have long used assurances in extradition and related contexts, albeit more commonly in the context of guarantees against imposition of the death penalty. “In the context of torture, human rights fact-finding and monitoring bodies have long sought assurances from governments that detainees they visit and interview will not later be abused in retaliation,” it says.

These practices may partially explain why key human rights experts and tribunals initially accepted and even encouraged the use of assurances against torture. For instance, in 1996, then-Special Rapportuer on Torture Nigel Rodley encouraged Canada to seek assurances if it insisted on deporting a failed asylum-seeker to Algeria, calling it “perfectly appropriate and not uncommon.” In contrast, the European Court of Human Rights rejected assurances against torture in a 1996 case, Chahal v. UK, based on a scrutinizing assessment of their reliability.

By 2004, a series of revelations about the “global spider’s web,” as European Parliament member Dick Marty put it in a 2006 report, of US-directed renditions and torture—including the role of assurances— “had recast the debate from the question of assurances’ effectiveness to whether they should be rejected on principle,” the report noted.

In 2005, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Louise Arbour indicted assurances as “threaten[ing] to empty international human rights law of its content.”

According to Arbour: “Diplomatic assurances basically create a two-class system among detainees, attempting to provide for a special bilateral protection and monitoring regime for a selected few and ignoring the systemic torture of other detainees, even though all are entitled to the equal protection of existing UN instruments.”

Arbour’s position mirrored the emerging perspective of major human rights organizations, the report says. While some advocates privately debated whether to suggest basic requirements for reliable assurances, others insisted that such a position would undermine the advocacy message that assurances should be rejected wholesale—the “reject rather than regulate” position.

Key human rights organizations continue to urge governments to abandon the concept of assurances altogether, emphasizing, as Amnesty International put it in a 2010 report, that the international human rights system is “fundamentally undermined when states seek to circumvent it with non-binding, bilateral promises not to torture.”

To date, no coalition of human rights groups has reached consensus on guidelines for assurances, nor have UN or Council of Europe bodies.

As then-Special Rapporteur on Torture Theo Van Boven emphasized in a 2004 report to the UN General Assembly, specific guarantees are critical to ensuring that diplomatic assurances are not “empty gestures.”

Van Boven recommended that safeguards “explicitly included in the assurances to be obtained” reflect international human rights norms and standards, including: prompt access to a lawyer; recording of all interrogation sessions and of the identity of all persons present; prompt and independent medical examination; and forbidding incommunicado detention or detention at undisclosed places.

Transparency in Decision-Making: Lack of transparency casts a pall on assurances-based transfers, prompting skepticism. In its most recent report on the US, the UN Committee Against Torture cited “the secrecy of [assurances] procedures including the absence of judicial scrutiny,” and called on the US to “establish and implement clear procedures for obtaining such assurances, with adequate judicial mechanisms for review.”

Iraqi Refugees in Limbo

By William Fisher

This holiday season, thousands of Iraqi refugees are living in limbo in the Middle East.

Iraqi Christians and other religious and sexual minorities, as well as U.S.- affiliated Iraqis are struggling to survive outside Iraq with limited ability to exercise their basic rights, obtain formal employment or access services such as education and heath care, according to a new report from Human Rights First, a research and advocacy organization.

The report charges that “serious reforms are needed in the U.S. resettlement program to remove unnecessarily processing delays which now leave many Iraqis refugees and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis vulnerable and stranded in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations.”

The report is entitled, “Living in Limbo: Iraqi Refugees and U.S. Resettlement.” Its lead author is Jesse Bernstein.

As violence and instability persist in Iraq, resettlement to other countries – including the United States – remains the only effective path for many of these refugees. These include “those who have faced persecution in Iraq because of their work with the United States, to find safety, dignity and a new home for their families,” the report says.

It adds that, while the United States has stepped up its response to Iraqi displacement over the last few years, “Lengthy delays in U.S. processing leave Iraqis slated for U.S. resettlement languishing for months – even years – in countries where they have limited opportunities to support their families and some – particularly those within Iraq – face life-threatening circumstances,” said HRF’s Bernstein.

“These persisting processing delays, including delays in processing background clearances, continue to undermine the effectiveness of the programs created by Congress – in bi-partisan legislation – to ensure that U.S.-affiliated Iraqis are brought to safety in a timely manner,” he said.

Despite the ongoing U.S. troop drawdown and its shift to a civilian-led operation in Iraq, Iraqis continue to face persecution and violence, circumstances that cause them to flee to different regions of Iraq or to seek refuge in countries such as Syria, Jordan, and Turkey, the report says.

“This serious situation requires continued high level engagement from the United States and international community. In 2010 alone, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) registered just over 31,000 Iraqi refugees. In October of this year, there were 3,000 new registrations alone in Syria and Jordan. Over 195,000 Iraqi refugees are registered with UNHCR in the region, although additional refugees are not registered,” HRF reports.

The report documents that in its interviews with Iraqis in the region, including religious minorities such as Iraqi Christians and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, “not one had hopes of returning to Iraq, and some experienced direct violence while waiting to be resettled to the United States.”

In one case, the report recounts, the son of an Iraqi translator who worked for the United States military waited 21 months in Baghdad for his resettlement approval. During his wait, he was shot due to his father’s U.S. affiliation and he received additional threats while waiting for his U.S. security check process to be completed. He finally arrived in the United States in November 2010. In another example, a child fell ill and died while awaiting security processing and his young siblings and mother were jailed by Turkish authorities because they had overstayed their visas.

The report explains that, “in recent years, the United States has played a leadership role in providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees and displaced persons. It has also contributed significantly to UNHCR’s Iraqi protection operations.”

But at the same time, the Departments of State and Homeland Security continue to struggle to overcome persistent problems that undermine the timeliness of U.S. resettlement efforts, including delays in the processing of inter-agency security clearances.

It notes that former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker complained about the “bottlenecks” in security clearance processing over three years ago.

HRF’s report, based on independent research and interviews with Iraqi refugees as well as government officials and UN staff, recommends a series of reforms to address the concerns raised in the report.

The US, it says, should ensure timely and effective processing of resettlement and visa applications for Iraqi refugees, U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and other refugees – specifically:

• Reduce unnecessary delays in the security clearance process. The National Security Council should, together with the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies, improve the inter-agency security clearance procedure to enable security checks for refugees and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis to be completed accurately and without unnecessary delays within a set time period;

• Develop and implement an emergency resettlement procedure for refugees facing imminent danger. The Department of State should continue to work with other relevant federal agencies to develop and implement a formal and transparent resettlement procedure for refugees who face emergency or urgent circumstances;

• Remove other impediments that continue to delay the applications of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis. The Department of State, working with other agencies, should – in addition to addressing delays in security processing – continue to take other steps to eliminate case backlogs and address inefficiencies in the current SIV visa processing procedures;

• Provide information necessary for refugees to submit meaningful Requests for Reconsideration. The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should implement reforms to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the resettlement process, including by revising the current Notice of Ineligibility for Resettlement to provide case-specific factual and legal reasons for denial.

“By addressing the persistent delays in processing, the Obama administration will strengthen the effectiveness of the U.S. resettlement program and recommit itself to the protection of refugees,” Bernstein concluded.

US efforts to relocate Iraqi refugees have had a checkered history.
Since 2003, more than 35,000 Iraqi refugees have resettled in the U.S. The U.S. was slow to admit the refugees until Senator Kennedy initiated legislation to facilitate the process. The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, which passed in 2008, directs the Secretary of State to establish processing facilities in Iraq and countries in the region for eligible Iraqis to apply and interview for U.S. admission as refugees or as special immigrants.
In 2009, after years of delay and bureaucratic red tape, refugees from the Iraq War were finally allowed into the United States. But there is ample evidence that America opened its gates to refugees and then simply forgot about them after they arrived.

In the process, the United States was in danger of failing to meet its legal obligations to extend protection to the most vulnerable refugees, promote their long-term self-sufficiency, and support their integration.

These are among the key findings of a study carried out by a team of students at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. The students, members of Georgetown Human Rights Action, conducted the study in partnership with the Law Center’s Human Rights Institute. They interviewed Iraqi refugees in Jordan and in two cities in the U.S., Washington, D.C. and Detroit.

Their report says, “Across the United States, many resettled Iraqi refugees are wondering how, after fleeing persecution at home to seek refuge in (Jordan) a country that barely tolerated them, they have found themselves in ‘the land of opportunity’ with little hope of achieving a secure and decent life.”

It charges that recently resettled Iraqi refugees “face odds so heavily stacked against them that most end up jobless, some even homeless” and cites the experience of one Iraqi widow who lives with her three young children in a shelter.

“I left Iraq to find security,” the refugee says. “But what kind of security is it to live in a homeless shelter?”

The report applauds the advocates who “worked tirelessly to encourage the U.S. government to accept Iraqis who were forced to flee a war initiated by the United States,” but notes that “few have studied what happens to those refugees after they arrive here.”

Acknowledging that resettlement is one of three “durable solutions” for refugees, the report says there has been “scarce focus on just how durable the U.S. resettlement system actually is.”

It says that the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) “is unique in giving new life and opportunity to millions of refugees, accepting many times more than the rest of the world combined.” But it cautions that as these new refugees from Iraq arrive in increasing numbers, and “as the U.S. economy continues to offer little prospect for those seeking work, there is an urgent need to diagnose the ills of refugee resettlement before they become incurable.”

The project sought to determine the extent to which Iraqi refugees have been afforded protection and a durable solution through the USRAP. Throughout their report, “long-term self-sufficiency” and “long-term integration” are the terms used to describe both the goal of the USRAP and the standard against which it is measured.

The report says, “If the United States is to meet its own aims and serve as a guarantor of security for those it welcomes to its shores, it is imperative that U.S. policies be based on respect for these legal norms.”

The report recommends that refugee resettlement should be decoupled from U.S. anti-poverty programs and tailored to the unique needs and experiences of refugees.

It suggests that refugee assistance be increased from eight to eighteen months, and programs designed to promote the long-term self-sufficiency and integration of refugees should be better funded.

Stronger emphasis should be placed on the core barriers to self-sufficiency and integration, including lack of English language skills, lack of transportation, and lack of opportunities for education and recertification.

It also recommends that funding for employment and social services should be tailored to estimates of incoming refugee arrivals and secondary migration, as well as the unique needs of these particular groups. Funding should not be based on the number of past refugee arrivals.

Finally, the report says, “All actors within the USRAP must improve planning and information sharing capabilities. Planning should anticipate and prepare for the unique needs of each refugee group prior to arrival. In order to tailor services for refugees, actors must take into account important information on refugees collected in the resettlement process, such as health status and professional background.”

The United Nations estimates that there are currently 4.7 million Iraqi external and internal refugees. Until 2007, the numbers admitted to the U.S. were in the low hundreds. Then, under pressure from advocacy groups and increased reporting on the plight of Iraqi refugees, the U.S. began resettling more Iraqis. In the fall of
2007, Congress passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, providing admission for Iraqis that worked for the U.S. or its contractors in Iraq, and allowing in-country processing for at-risk Iraqis.

In 2008, the United States appointed two Senior Coordinators for Iraqi Refugees, one at the Department of State (DOS) and one at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to strengthen the American humanitarian commitment to refugees with a particular emphasis on resettlement. In FY 2008, the U.S. resettled 13,822 Iraqi refugees. As of August 31, 2009, the U.S. had resettled 16,965, totaling approximately 33,000 since the start of the 2003 war.


By William Fisher

Three prominent civil liberties advocates are suing the government to obtain records documenting tens of thousands of incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.

The Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Connecticut are charging that military sexual trauma (MST) results from these kinds of acts, which they say occur nearly twice as often within military ranks as they do within civilian society.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in New Haven, Connecticut against the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs because the government failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.

"The government's refusal to even take the first step of providing comprehensive and accurate information about the sexual trauma inflicted upon our women and men in uniform, and the treatment and benefits MST survivors receive after service, is all too telling," said Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine captain and Executive Director of SWAN.

"The DOD and VA should put the interests of service members first and expose information on the extent of sexual trauma in the military to the sanitizing light of day," she added.

The lawsuit is to "obtain the release of records on a matter of public concern, namely, the prevalence of MST within the armed services, the policies of the DOD and VA regarding MST and other related disabilities, and the nature of each agency's response to MST."

Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project, told The Public Record, "The known statistics on military sexual trauma suggest that sexual abuse is all too prevalent in our military. But we know that many service members who suffer from abuse are not receiving the treatment they need. The truth about the extent of this abuse and what has been done to address it must be made known."
MST is particularly widespread among servicewomen, many of whom struggle to return to civilian life after suffering sexual assault or harassment while serving. While the number of homeless veterans has declined over the past 10 years, the number of homeless women veterans has doubled. In fact, 40 percent of homeless women veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the armed forces.

In 2009, the DOD estimated there were some 3,200 cases of MST. Lawyer Park suggested this was a significant under-count.

Survivors' VA disability claims are often rejected because they cannot prove an initial assault or rape, even if the veteran has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a VA military sexual trauma counselor.

"The government is failing to care for the overwhelming number of women who so desperately need help coping with something as devastating as rape, sexual assault and harassment," said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "These women have already put their lives on the line by serving their country. The least that the government can do is disclose the scope of the problem."

The ACLU’s Park was asked why the military doesn’t want to disclose this information?

“The Defense Department (DOD) has acknowledged that the statistics are shocking. But since so much of this abuse goes unreported, there has been no systematic effort to collect data that would suggest the size of the problem,” she said, adding:

“Nor has there been and systematic effort to reform the system. The government just doesn’t want the adverse publicity that would result if the scope and true cost of this problem were publicly known.”

She said documents obtained would be made public. They would also be shared with DOD the Veterans Administration. “The VA needs these records to develop policies for collecting and maintain records and crafting fact-based treatment plans” for victims of MST.”