Judge says CIA can cover up destruction of interrogation tapes
NEW YORK — A judge cited national security concerns in ruling Wednesday that the CIA does not have to release hundreds of documents related to the destruction of videotapes of Sept. 11 detainee interrogations that used harsh methods.
U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein said he believed he had an obligation to let the CIA director decide what should be released when it pertains to methods used to make uncooperative detainees divulge information.
“The need to keep confidential just how the CIA and other government agencies obtained their information is manifest, and that has to do with the identities of the people who gave information and who were questioned to obtain information,” the judge said from the bench.
He ruled after reviewing in private 65 of roughly 580 documents sought by the American Civil Liberties Union, including 53 field reports to CIA headquarters about interrogations.
An ACLU lawsuit already has forced the release of legal memos authorizing harsh methods, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning, and slamming suspects into walls, techniques described by critics as torture.
The judge said he expects to order the release of six pages of written notes from a CIA field officer who spoke about the interrogation videotapes with a CIA lawyer, but he gave the government two weeks to submit new arguments opposing the release.
He said it was only important that he decide whether the issue before him was a fit subject for intelligence gathering, not whether it was legal.
“If so, my job is to defer to the extent appropriate — and that is substantial — to the decision of the director of the CIA,” he said.
CIA Director Leon Panetta had told the judge in court papers that releasing documents about the agency’s terror interrogations would gravely damage national security.