A federal judge ruled Friday that the government may withhold portions of records that allegedly describe torture and abuse in a case related to detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information on 14 detainees and unredacted Combatant Status Review Tribunal (“CSRT”) hearing transcripts. In response, the CIA released one transcript in its entirety, except for names and signatures of Department of Defense personnel, five redacted versions of transcripts, and three redacted detainee statements. More detailed facts of the case prior to appeal can be found in ACLU v. Dep’t of Defense, 584 F. Supp. 2d 19, 22 (D.D.C. 2008).
To justify the redactions, the CIA invoked FOIA Exemptions 1 and 3, which permit agencies to withhold records that are authorized to be kept secret by Executive Order. In invoking Exemption 1, the CIA relied on Executive Order No. 12,958, Fed. Reg. 19,825 (Apr. 17, 1995), which permits agencies to classify information concerning “intelligence sources or methods” if release of the information would damage the national security of the United States. §§ 1.4(c), 1.1(a)(4). Exemption 3 applies to information that is “specifically exempt from disclosure by statute.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3). In invoking Exemption 3, defendants relied upon the National Security Act of 1947 and the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949.
The ACLU argued that due to changes in interrogation policy under the Obama Administration–including a move away from coercive interrogation methods–the information included in the detainee records was no longer a matter of intelligence methods that would affect national security. The court disagreed.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth denied the ACLU FOIA request and stated that the ACLU’s First Amendment argument was without merit. He held that statements made by detainees relating to torture and coercive interrogation methods should be considered intelligence gathering methods and therefore protected from FOIA requests. Lamberth based his decision on a 42-page CIA affidavit that asserts the government is not concealing any violations of law in the classified sections of the detainees’ statements. Lamberth did not actually review the statements himself, but rather declared such examination unnecessary.