Judge Peels Off Layer of CIA Torture Secrecy

MANHATTAN (CN) — Nearly three years after the Senate chronicled how the CIA tortured detainees, a federal judge ordered the government Wednesday to disclose certain documents referenced in the report.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s attorney Dror Ladin applauded another crack in the secrecy of the discredited CIA program.

“We’re very pleased that the court rejected the CIA’s attempt to hide records concerning the agency’s unlawful actions,” Ladin said. “It’s essential that the public learn the full truth of the shameful torture carried out in our name.”

On Dec. 9, 2014, the U.S. government revealed only a heavily redacted, 524-page summary of a study carried out by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence of the CIA detention and interrogation program.

Better known as the torture report, the full, 6,200-page study and 24 related documents remain classified to this day.

The American Civil Liberties Union began fighting shortly thereafter in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to acquire 19 of those cited documents.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the disclosure of five of them on Wednesday.

At least three delve into the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, a central figure of the Senate’s report who has spent the past 11 years at Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

The Pentagon initially classified Zubaydah as a “high-value” detainee, believed to be senior in al-Qaida, but has since reconsidered that assessment.

In 2009, the Washington Post reported that intelligence, military and law-enforcement sources no longer consider Zubaydah to have been a formal member of al-Qaida.

With the dubious distinction of being the the first man subjected to CIA torture after 9/11, a picture of Zubaydah upon his transfer to the Cuban prison camp shows the Palestinian-born “forever prisoner” wearing an eye patch. Attorneys for the detainee, who argued for Zubaydah’s release before a parole-style review board last year, have been quoted as saying Zubaydah lost his left eye in CIA custody.

Hellerstein’s ruling Wednesday orders the government to produce a document titled “Eyes Only – HQS Feedback on Issues Pending for Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah,” containing feedback by CIA field and headquarters employees gave about Zubaydah’s interrogation.

Another set of emails, from CIA attorneys to the Department of Justice, details how the author of the so-called “torture memos” related that a former attorney general personally approved Zubaydah’s torture.

“Yoo advised me that Attorney General John Ashcroft has approved the use of the water board in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah,” the quoted email states, referring to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo.

Hellerstein rejected the government’s claim to secrecy for this message.

“Since the government concedes that the policy of waterboarding, and its approval by the attorney general may be made public, there is no basis to withhold the balance of the email,” the 39-page opinion states. 

The ACLU may also learn more about the psychiatric community’s complicity in the torture program through the disclosure of the document “Summary and Undated Reflections of Chief of Medical Services on OMS Participation in the RDI Program.”

Hellerstein said that the contents of the document are shrouded in mystery.

“In short, we do not know anything about the document other than what is apparent from the document itself,” he said.

Hellerstein took little stock in government arguments that releasing the file “could reasonably be expected to cause harm” to U.S. security because release of the information “could provide adversaries with valuable insight into CIA operations that would damage their effectiveness.”

“Such conclusions without reasons are insufficient,” the judge said.

Under longstanding precedent, the government must justify withholding documents with “reasonable specificity,” and without resorting to “conclusory and generalized allegations of exemptions.”

Hellerstein said the government did just that.

“In light of the extensive declassification of many aspects of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, the government’s sparse submission on this point suggests an effort to claim an exemption without hope of success,” he wrote.

The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

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