Court Rules CIA Can Keep Any Secret It Wants
by Roger Strother*, 11/4/2008
On Oct. 29, a federal court refused to examine statements made by Guantanamo Bay detainees during their tribunals; the statements were redacted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The statements, which reportedly contain allegations of torture committed against the detainees while they were in U.S. custody, come at a time when the British government is seeking to investigate the treatment of one of its own residents held at the detention facility.
The Department of Defense posted redacted versions of the statements to the agency's website and released copies of the redacted material to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in response to a 2007 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents include statements made by high-value detainees Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Hambali, and Bashir Bin Lap. After unsuccessful administrative appeals asking for the redacted information, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to obtain the material.
Wendy Hilton, a CIA information review officer, issued a sworn affidavit on behalf of the agency, in which she described the details that were not publicly released as "the conditions of the detainees' capture, the employment of alternative interrogation methods, and other operational details." The CIA contends that disclosure of such information is likely to degrade the agency's ability to effectively question terrorist detainees and elicit information necessary to protect the American people. The agency believes that public disclosure of the CIA's methods would allow al Qaeda and other terrorists to train in "counter-interrogation" tactics.
Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, turned down the option to review the documents in camera, which occurs when a judge reviews potentially sensitive material privately in chambers to determine the veracity of a party's claims. Lamberth issued an opinion that the CIA's declaration was in good faith and that he was "disinclined to second-guess the agency in its area of expertise."
The ACLU criticized Lamberth for not exercising appropriate judicial oversight on a key issue of the Bush administration's detainee policy — torture allegations. The ACLU argues that the redacted statements contain detainee allegations of torture. Ben Wizner, an ACLU staff attorney, said that the information was initially redacted by the CIA to "protect itself from criticism and liability. It is unlawful for the government to withhold information on these grounds."
The British government is also accusing the U.S. of withholding information concerning torture allegations by a British detainee. Baroness Patricia Scotland, the Attorney General of Great Britain, is reviewing evidence for possible criminal proceedings against American officials who allegedly abused a British resident, Binyam Mohamed, while he was imprisoned in Morocco and Afghanistan. Mohamed has been in Guantanamo since 2004. According to reports, the review was requested by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who obtained access to secret evidence that U.S. officials, as well as British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, are attempting to suppress.