Tuesday, 09 June 2009 13:10
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 June 2009 14:04
Last month, the CIA told a federal court judge it could not abide by a court order and turn over detailed documents about the destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes because it would compromise the integrity of a special prosecutor's criminal investigation into the matter.
U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein responded by demanding a sworn declaration from special counsel John Durham confirming that to be the case. In a subsequent court filing, Lev Dassin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, backtracked and said the CIA would no longer rely on that argument.
Dassin added, however, that a "senior government official" would soon submit a declaration explaining why detailed documents related to the videotaped interrogations should not be turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union. In previous court filings, the CIA disclosed that 12 of the 92 videotaped interrogations depict CIA interrogators subjecting Abu Zubaydah, the first "high-value" detainee, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, to brutal interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
Late Monday, the identity of the "senior government official" was revealed.
In a 24-page sworn declaration click here CIA Director Leon Panetta said the documents sought by the ACLU in a long-running Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the civil liberties organization filed against the the Bush Administration must be withheld in the interest of national security.
Panetta argued that the documents should not be disclosed because it contains top-secret information about the use of specific interrogation techniques, as opposed to abstract information about the legal justification to use those methods that were included in Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos released in April.
"The information in these documents would provide future terrorists with a guidebook on how to evade such questioning," Panetta's declaration says. "Additionally, disclosure of explicit details of specific interrogations where [enhanced interrogation techniques] were applied would provide al-Qa'ida with propaganda it could use to recruit and raise funds.
The ACLU was harshly critical of Panetta's argument.
"The CIA's withholding of documents because they might be used as propaganda would justify the greatest governmental suppression of the worst governmental misconduct. If we accept the CIA's rationale, the government could, for example, suppress any document discussing torture, Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo Bay," said Alex Abdo, a fellow with the ACLU National Security Project. "Certain governmental information must of course remain classified for security reasons, but terrorists should not have a veto power over what the public is allowed to know about governmental misconduct."
In December 2007, the ACLU filed a motion to hold the CIA in contempt for its destruction of the tapes in violation of a court order requiring the agency to produce or identify all records requested by the ACLU related to the CIA's interrogation of "war on terror" detainees.
The CIA and the Justice Department declined to turn over a more detailed description of the cables it's field agents sent back to headquarters citing several exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act, which Panetta further elaborated on in his declaration.
The agency had said it withheld a detailed description of the cables because it "contains information relating to intelligence sources and intelligence methods that is specifically exempted from disclosure" in accordance with the National Security Act. The documents also contain "information relating to the organization, functions, and names of person employed by the CIA that is specifically exempted from disclosure."