The Justice Department disclosed in a letter late Friday that the CIA has about 3,000 documents, including e-mails, transcripts and cables to officials in Washington, related to the videotaped interrogations of alleged “high-value” prisoners that the agency destroyed.
The disclosure was made as part of an ongoing lawsuit between the CIA and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Justice Department faced a Friday deadline in turning over an inventory of documents in its possession related to the videotaped interrogations. In a previous court filing, the Justice Department said "the CIA is not aware of any transcripts of the destroyed videotapes." But that assumption was undercut by the Friday's court filing which said otherwise.
The civil liberties organization had filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA to gain access to documents and other materials regarding the interrogation and treatment of detainees. In December 2007, shortly after news broke that the CIA destroyed its library of videotaped interrogations of two detainees, the ACLU filed a contempt motion against the spy agency.
Last August, the judge presiding over the case ordered the CIA to produce “a list of any summaries, transcripts, or memoranda regarding the [destroyed tapes] and of any reconstruction of the records’ contents” as well as a list of witnesses who may have viewed the videotapes or retained custody of the videotapes before their destruction.”
The ACLU’s lawsuit against the CIA has thus far revealed that a dozen of the 92 videotapes the CIA had destroyed showed interrogators torturing two “high-value” prisoners. CIA officials had said the videotapes were destroyed to prevent disclosure of evidence revealing how the agency’s interrogators subjected “war on terror” detainees to waterboarding and other brutal methods.
In a one-page letter sent Friday to U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein, Led Dassin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the 3,000 documents includes “cables, memoranda, notes and emails.” However, Dassin refused to disclose the documents publicly and told Judge Hellerstein that unredacted versions of the materials would only be available for “in-camera” review on March 26.
Additionally, a list of individuals who viewed the videotapes prior to its destruction “is either classified or otherwise protected by statute.”
“Accordingly, the CIA is not producing either list to plaintiffs in redacted form,” Dassin wrote.
The Justice Department’s position on the documents comes one day after Attorney General Eric Holder issued sweeping new Freedom of Information guidelines for all executive branch agencies to “apply a presumption of openness when administering the FOIA.”
“The American people have the right to information about their government’s activities, and these new guidelines will ensure they are able to obtain that information under principles of openness and transparency,” Holder said Thursday.
However, Holder added that FOIA requests would be denied and records withheld “only if the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of the statutory exemptions, or disclosure is prohibited by law.” But even then, all federal agencies were directed to at least “release records in part whenever they cannot be released in full.”
The ACLU criticized the Justice Department Thursday for continuing to withhold documents related to the destruction of the torture tapes.
“The government is still needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA's use of torture is well known,” said Amrit Singh, staff attorney with the ACLU. “Full disclosure of the CIA's illegal interrogation methods is long overdue and the agency must be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.”
Two weeks ago, the Justice Department turned over to the ACLU a heavily censored page of what appears to be a CIA internal report about the torture of “war on terror” detainees, which read: “Interrogators administered [redacted] waterboard to Al-Nashiri.”
The same page indicated that a dozen of 92 destroyed videotapes of the CIA’s interrogations were of detainees undergoing brutal treatment. “There are 92 videotapes, 12 of which include EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques] applications,” the page says.
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