Civil Liberties Let Down: Judge Hellerstein Rejects ACLU Suit Against CIA

With all the news on Hellerstein standing up for the 9/11 first responders – I thought he might be a good guy….well, I learned something that others may already know real fast tonight .

source: AP / Yahoo  July 16, 2010

A federal judge on Thursday refused to force the public release of CIA methods relating to Sept. 11 detainees who were interrogated harshly, saying the judiciary’s authority is limited when national security is at stake.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected arguments by the American Civil Liberties Union that it should be able to force the CIA to release names and documents related to the detainees if the methods used by the agency were illegal.

He said to do so would “confer an unwarranted competence to the district court to evaluate national intelligence decisions.”

The judge said releasing the documents requested by the ACLU would provide operational details about the application of various interrogation techniques in various circumstances for a particular detainee.

“The difference between the information officially released and the CIA operational records here is different in quality, degree, and kind,” Hellerstein said.

He cited an earlier court case that he said was consistent with his findings. In that case, the Supreme Court let the government withhold identifying information of scientists who worked on a covert CIA program researching the use of chemical, biological and radiological materials to control human behavior. The program led to the death of some human test subjects.

“Courts are not invested with the competence to second-guess the CIA director regarding the appropriateness of any particular intelligence source or method,” Hellerstein wrote.

He said the law was clear that the courts do not have the authority to force the release of such documents.

He noted that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta had declared that disclosure would result in “exceptionally grave damage to clandestine human intelligence collection and foreign liaison relationships.”

Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, said the group was “very dismayed by today’s ruling.”

He said the civil rights group was seriously considering an appeal.

“The CIA can’t rely on its authority to withhold intelligence sources and methods in order to withhold evidence of its own criminal conduct,” he said.

The ACLU had been seeking roughly 580 documents, 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 and slamming suspects into walls, techniques described by critics as torture.

The judge has said he likely would have ruled against public disclosure of videotapes documenting new harsh questioning techniques if the CIA had not destroyed them in 2005. The destruction was revealed nearly two years ago, and a criminal investigation into why the videotapes were destroyed continues.

The government has said the destruction was of 92 videotapes, including those containing interrogations of al-Qaida lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, who later told a military tribunal he suffered physical and mental torture and nearly died four times. Zubaydah claimed that after many months of such treatment, authorities concluded he was not the No. 3 person in al-Qaida as they had long believed.

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