CIA acknowledges existence of presidential order authorizing it to detain, interrogate terror suspects overseas

RAW STORY
Published: Tuesday November 14, 2006

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In response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, the CIA has finally acknowledged the existence of a presidential order authorizing the agency to detain and interrogate terror suspects overseas.

"For more than two years, the CIA had refused to either deny or confirm the existence of the documents and had argued in court that doing so could jeopardize national security," the ACLU notes in a press release received by RAW STORY.

Along with a memorandum written by President Bush to the agency's director, the CIA also referred to a Justice Department legal analysis sent to the CIA's general counsel which specified interrogation methods which could be used against top Al-Qaeda members.

However, the CIA wouldn't release either of the documents.

"The documents are withheld in their entirety because there is no meaningful non-exempt information that can be reasonably segregated from the exempt information," said the CIA letter signed by Associate General Counsel John L. McPherson (which can be read in full at this pdf link).

"The CIA’s sudden reversal on these secret directives is yet more evidence that the Bush administration is misusing claims of national security to avoid public scrutiny," ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero stated in the press release. "Confusion about whether such a presidential order existed certainly led to the torture and abuse scandal that embarrassed America."

Romeros argues that "with a new Congress and renewed subpoena power, we now need to look up the chain of command."

The ACLU intends to keep pressing until both documents are released in full.

"If President Bush and the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture its prisoners, the public has a right to know," ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer stated.

Excerpts from ACLU press release:

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A federal district court upheld the CIA’s refusal to confirm or deny the existence of the two documents, but the ACLU appealed that decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal was argued by Megan Lewis, an attorney with Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione. After President Bush confirmed in September that the United States does indeed maintain secret detention facilities abroad, the government withdrew its opposition to the ACLU’s appeal. However, the CIA said it will withhold the documents in their entirety and file a new declaration explaining its legal basis for doing so. That declaration is expected before November 30.

The ACLU will return to court in this case on November 20 to challenge the government’s withholding of 21 images depicting abuse of detainees by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ACLU argues that the release of these images is crucial to understanding the command failures that led to the abuse.

To date, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia

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In a related matter, the ACLU will appear at a federal hearing in Richmond, VA on November 28 in the case of Khaled El-Masri, an innocent German man who was kidnapped by the CIA and transported to a secret site in Afghanistan where he was detained and abused. A district court upheld the CIA’s claim that the case could not proceed without disclosing state secrets. The ACLU appealed the decision, noting that accounts of El-Masri’s abduction have already appeared in news reports around the world and foreign governments have launched their own investigations into the matter.

More information on the El-Masri case is online at: www.aclu.org/rendition

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