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Federal court dismisses ACLU request for Guantanamo transcripts

A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that the US government does not have to release non-redacted transcripts relating to the interrogation of certain "high value" detainees at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The court held that the Department of Defense (DOD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official websites] did not improperly deny a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] by releasing redacted documents since two FOIA exemptions allowed the DOD to withhold certain information. The ACLU claims that the full versions of the documents contain evidence that the US government abused detainees. Under the exemptions, the government does not have to release information relating to national security that is properly classified according to executive order or information that is specifically excluded from disclosure by a statute. The court rejected ACLU arguments that the information is not subject to the exemptions since it is already widely available to the public, the interrogation techniques allegedly described in the documents are no longer legal, thus not "intelligence sources or methods," and the government cannot classify the observations of detainees. The court found: "The CIA explained with sufficient detail why the withheld information qualifies as 'intelligence sources or methods' and adequately described the potential harm to national security that could result from the information's public disclosure. Nothing in the CIA's affidavit is contradicted by the record and we find no evidence of bad faith by the government." Ben Wizener, an ACLU attorney involved in the case, disagreed Tuesday, stating [press release], "The court's decision undermines the Freedom of Information Act and condones a cover-up. These transcripts are being suppressed not to protect national security, but to shield former government officials from accountability." The court also ruled that a lower court did not err by refusing to review non-redacted versions of the documents.

Tuesday's decision affirmed a 2009 ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website]. The CIA released redacted versions [JURIST report] of the transcripts in June 2009. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the District Court to review its 2008 decision [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] allowing the government to withhold the transcripts in light of subsequent developments, including Barack Obama's executive orders to end the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and close Guantanamo Bay as well as the government's decision to declassify memos [JURIST reports] related to the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. The ACLU filed suit [complaint, PDF] in 2008 asking the court to compel the government to release the information.

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