U.S. Seeks Silence on CIA Prisons
- Court Is Asked to Bar Detainees From Talking About Interrogations
By Carol D. Leonnig and Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 4, 2006; Page A01
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. 26.
"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 Post)
Bush acknowledged the existence of secret CIA prisons abroad Sept. 6,
2006, as he called for the authority to try prisoners by military
commissions. On Jan. 18, 2007, the Pentagon released its rules
for trying detainees.
*CIA'S SECRET PRISONS*
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest reported on Nov. 2 that the CIA
operates a network of secret prisons where it holds terror
suspects. Priest was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on April 17 for her beat
on the CIA and the War on Terror.
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 clearance.
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