U.S. SEEKS SILENCE ON CIA PRISONS
- Court Is Asked to Bar Detainees From Talking About Interrogations
U.S. SEEKS SILENCE ON CIA PRISONS
Carol D. Leonnig and Eric Rich
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 U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton on Oct.
"We had no way of knowing who had him or where he was," said Mahmood
Khan, brother of Majid Khan, who was held for more than three years
in a secret CIA prison. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington
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 U.S. 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 the public.
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 U.S. courts. That law
established separate military trials for terrorism suspects.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is
considering whether Guantanamo detainees have the right to challenge
their imprisonment in U.S. 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
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
U.S. 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 U.S. reservoirs and
considered him for an operation to assassinate the Pakistani
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
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 U.S.
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 followed
"Pretty much we were scared," he said. "We live in this country. We
have everything here."
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
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