News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
US Seeks Silence on CIA Prisons
By Carol D. Leonnig and Eric Rich
The Washington Post
Saturday 04 November 2006
Court is asked to bar detainees from talking about
The Bush administration has told a federal judge that
terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be
allowed to reveal details of the "alternative interrogation
methods" that their captors used to get them to talk.
The government says in new court filings that those
interrogation methods are now among the nation's most
sensitive national security secrets and that their release
-- even to the detainees' own attorneys -- "could reasonably
be expected to cause extremely grave damage." Terrorists
could use the information to train in counter-interrogation
techniques and foil government efforts to elicit information
about their methods and plots, according to government
documents submitted to US District Judge Reggie B. Walton on
The battle over legal rights for terrorism suspects detained
for years in CIA prisons centers on Majid Khan, a
26-year-old former Catonsville resident who was one of 14
high-value detainees transferred in September from the
"black" sites to the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba. A lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights,
which represents many detainees at Guantanamo, is seeking
emergency access to him.
The government, in trying to block lawyers' access to the 14
detainees, effectively asserts that the detainees'
experiences are a secret that should never be shared with
Because Khan "was detained by CIA in this program, he may
have come into possession of information, including
locations of detention, conditions of detention, and
alternative interrogation techniques that is classified at
the TOP SECRET//SCI level," an affidavit from CIA
Information Review Officer Marilyn A. Dorn states, using the
acronym for "sensitive compartmented information."
Gitanjali Gutierrez, an attorney for Khan's family,
responded in a court document yesterday that there is no
evidence that Khan had top-secret information. "Rather," she
said, "the executive is attempting to misuse its
classification authority . . . to conceal illegal or
embarrassing executive conduct."
Joseph Margulies, a Northwestern University law professor
who has represented several detainees at Guantanamo, said
the prisoners "can't even say what our government did to
these guys to elicit the statements that are the basis for
them being held. Kafka-esque doesn't do it justice. This is
'Alice in Wonderland.'"
Kathleen Blomquist, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said
yesterday that details of the CIA program must be protected
from disclosure. She said the lawyer's proposal for talking
with Khan "is inadequate to protect unique and potentially
highly classified information that is vital to our country's
ability to fight terrorism."
Government lawyers also argue in court papers that detainees
such as Khan previously held in CIA sites have no automatic
right to speak to lawyers because the new Military
Commissions Act, signed by President Bush last month,
stripped them of access to US courts. That law established
separate military trials for terrorism suspects.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
is considering whether Guantanamo detainees have the right
to challenge their imprisonment in US courts. The government
urged Walton to defer any decision on access to lawyers
until the higher court rules.
The government filing expresses concern that detainee
attorneys will provide their clients with information about
the outside world and relay information about detainees to
others. In an affidavit, Guantanamo's staff judge advocate,
Cmdr. Patrick M. McCarthy, said that in one case a
detainee's attorney took questions from a BBC reporter with
him into a meeting with a detainee at the camp. Such
indirect interviews are "inconsistent with the purpose of
counsel access" at the prison, McCarthy wrote.
Dorn said in the court papers that for lawyers to speak to
former CIA detainees under the security protocol used for
other Guantanamo detainees "poses an unacceptable risk of
disclosure." But detainee attorneys said they have followed
the protocol to the letter, and none has been accused of
releasing information without government clearance.
Captives who have spent time in the secret prisons, and
their advocates, have said the detainees were sometimes
treated harshly with techniques that included
"waterboarding," which simulates drowning. Bush has declared
that the administration will not tolerate the use of torture
but has pressed to retain the use of unspecified
"alternative" interrogation methods.
The government argues that once rules are set for the new
military commissions, the high-value detainees will have
military lawyers and "unprecedented" rights to challenge
charges against them in that venue.
US officials say Khan, a Pakistani national who lived in the
United States for seven years, took orders from Khalid Sheik
Mohammed, the man accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11,
2001, attacks. Mohammed allegedly asked Khan to research
poisoning US reservoirs and considered him for an operation
to assassinate the Pakistani president.
In a separate court document filed last night, Khan's
attorneys offered declarations from Khaled al-Masri, a
released detainee who said he was held with Khan in a dingy
CIA prison called "the salt pit" in Afghanistan. There,
prisoners slept on the floor, wore diapers and were given
tainted water that made them vomit, Masri said. American
interrogators treated him roughly, he said, and told him he
"was in a land where there were no laws."
Khan's family did not learn of his whereabouts until Bush
announced his transfer in September, more than three years
after he was seized in Pakistan.
The family said Khan was staying with a brother in Karachi,
Pakistan, in March 2003 when men, who were not in uniform,
burst into the apartment late one night and put hoods over
the heads of Khan, his brother Mohammad and his brother's
wife. The couple's 1-month-old son was also seized.
Another brother, Mahmood Khan, who has lived in the United
States since 1989, said in an interview this week that the
four were hustled into police vehicles and taken to an
undisclosed location, where they were separated and held in
windowless rooms. His sister-in-law and her baby remained
together, he said.
According to Mahmood, Mohammad said they were questioned
repeatedly by men who identified themselves as members of
Pakistan's intelligence service and others who identified
themselves as US officials. Mohammad's wife was released
after seven days, and he was released after three months,
without charge. He was left on a street corner without
explanation, Mahmood said.
Periodically, he said, people who identified themselves as
Pakistani officials contacted Mohammad and assured him that
his brother would soon be released and that they ought not
contact a lawyer or speak with the news media.
"We had no way of knowing who had him or where he was,"
Mahmood Khan said this week at the family home outside
Baltimore. He said they complied with the requests because
they believed anything else could delay his brother's release.
In Maryland, Khan's family was under constant FBI
surveillance from the moment of his arrest, his brother
said. The FBI raided their house the day after the arrest,
removing computer equipment, papers and videos. Each family
member was questioned extensively and shown photographs of
terrorism suspects that Mahmood Khan said none of them
recognized. For much of the next year, he said, they were
"Pretty much we were scared," he said. "We live in this
country. We have everything here."
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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