Supreme Court Allows U.S. Government to Hide Details of U.S. Torture of Guantánamo Detainee

March 3, 2022 12:30 pm

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the federal government can assert the state secrets privilege over a Guantánamo Bay detainee’s efforts to subpoena information about his torture from James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, the former Central Intelligence Agency contractors who designed and implemented the agency’s torture program. The Supreme Court’s decision reasoned that the information could undermine intelligence relationships. His lawyers wanted to use the information to hold Polish officials accountable for his unlawful detention and torture in a CIA facility in Stare Kiejkuty, Poland.

“The Court’s decision is wrong and dangerous,” said Dror Ladin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “Today a majority of the Supreme Court allowed the CIA to declare secret the widely-known location of its torture facility in Poland. U.S. courts are the only place in the world where everyone must pretend not to know basic facts about the CIA’s torture program. It is long past time to stop letting the CIA hide its crimes behind absurd claims of secrecy and national security harm.”

The American Civil Liberties Union represented two CIA torture survivors and the family of a man who was tortured to death in Salim v. Mitchell, a lawsuit against Mitchell and Jessen. The case proceeded through discovery, including depositions of Mitchell and Jessen, and was scheduled for trial before the parties reached a settlement. As the ACLU and its partners explained in a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court in United States v. Husayn, the Salim litigation demonstrates that Mitchell and Jessen could testify about the treatment of individuals they tortured without revealing any legitimate state secret.

As Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a blistering dissent joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “We know already that our government treated Zubaydah brutally — more than 80 waterboarding sessions, hundreds of hours of live burial, and what it calls ‘rectal rehydration.’ Further evidence along the same lines may lie in the government’s vaults. But as embarrassing as these facts may be, there is no state secret here. This Court’s duty is to the rule of law and the search for truth. We should not let shame obscure our vision.”

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