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In Court Today: CIA Claims That Torture Technique Is an “Intelligence Method” Exempted From FOIA

Alex Abdo,
Former Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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March 9, 2012

Today I will argue in the federal court of appeals in New York that the CIA must release cables describing its use of waterboarding. The CIA has argued that, even though President Obama has declared waterboarding to be illegal, the cables do not have to be turned over in our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit because waterboarding is an “intelligence method.” We have argued that the CIA’s interpretation of the law is fundamentally inconsistent with the purpose of FOIA — to expose official misconduct to public scrutiny — and that, therefore, the government may not suppress details relating to an interrogation technique that even it recognizes to be unlawful.

The CIA’s characterization of torture as an “intelligence method” is shameful, and at bottom it is simply another effort to prevent the public from learning the full scope of the torture program. We know from documents the government has already released that the CIA’s use of waterboarding violated even the minimal guidelines established by its legal memos. The Obama administration should fulfill its commitment to transparency and release these additional documents.

After the CIA revealed in 2007 that it had violated the district court’s orders in our case by destroying videotapes depicting the torture of two detainees, the court ordered the agency to turn over any documents that would allow the public to reconstruct what was on the tapes. The CIA identified 580 documents that describe what was on the tapes, but it has refused to release them. The agency is also refusing to release a photo of one of the detainees, Abu Zubaydah, apparently taken around the time he was being interrogated.

The American public has a right to know the full truth about the torture that was committed in its name.

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