U.S. Torture Records Case Revived in the Ninth

     (CN) – Documents that the government is shielding from two brothers who accuse it of spying on them for a decade, and helping torture one of them abroad, deserve court scrutiny, the Ninth Circuit ruled Friday.
     The American Civil Liberties Union of Los Angeles brought the federal lawsuit at issue five years ago on behalf of Naji Hamdan and Hossam Hemdan.
     Hamdan once served as an imam at the California mosque called the Islamic Center of Hawthorne. He also once owned the auto-parts business, Hapomotors, which is now run by his brother Hemdan.
     The FBI allegedly began questioning Hamdan and Hemdan in 1999 about whether they or any of their associates had been involved in terrorism.
     Hamdan says that the United States’ interest in him continued after he moved to the United Arab Emirates to start a new business in 2006.
     One year later, Hamdan’s wife and child moved to his native Lebanon, and he says that Lebanese intelligence agents detained and abused him when he went to visit. Hamdan says that he reported his mistreatment to FBI agents back in the Emirates on Aug. 26, 2008.
     One month later, he says, Emirati security officials whisked him off to a secret location where they tortured him to extract false confessions of terrorist activity. Hamdan alleges that the United States knew of his treatment because one of his interrogators had an American accent and Western clothing.
     Human-rights groups later denounced Hamdan’s trial for terrorism offenses by an Emerati court.
     After sentencing the man to time served, the Emirates had him deported to his native Lebanon.
     In a habeas petition filed roughly two weeks before the Emirates released Hamdan, the ACLU called the United States complicit in his “proxy detention.”
     The ACLU’s ensuing federal lawsuit, seeking records about Hamdan’s treatment under the Freedom of Information Act, produced thousands of pages of documents.
     These files showed that the FBI sent an agent to the Emirates six weeks before Hamdan’s interrogation, said the ACLU’s co-counsel, Los Angeles-based advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
     Though the ACLU’s FOIA action named more than a dozen government agencies as defendants, the Ninth Circuit whittled down the records search on Friday to the 27 documents withheld by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
     An index of these files show that they range from the “Secret” to “Top Secret” levels of classification, and include documents dated on or near the time Hamdan said he spent inside a black site.     
     “This strongly suggests that U.S. government officials were at the least closely monitoring Mr. Hamdan’s detention and torture in the U.A.E. throughout this period, and could well have been involved in it,” said Laboni Hoq of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
     The Ninth Circuit found Friday that some of these records may be able to be released in part.
     “Here, we do not know whether the district court ensured that the agency met its burden to establish that all reasonably segregable material had been separated and disclosed,” Judge Ronald Gould wrote for a three-person panel. “That is because the only mention of segregability in the district court’s order was its statement in a footnote that it need not ‘undertake an independent segregability analysis on each document if the documents are withheld for attorney-client or work product privilege.'”
     On remand, the District Court must provide a more detailed analysis of whether the documents could be released in redacted form, the 36-page opinion from Pasadena states.
     Although still a U.S. citizen, Hamdan remains with his family in Lebanon because of his experiences in California and the Emirates, but his brother continues to run the family auto business in California, Hoq said.
     The lawyer commented that the family has not decided its next steps.
     “We’re still considering different options,” she said.
     The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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