Rosemary Collyer

Today Obama Will Get His Fifth New Dragnet Order Since “Reform” Started

On December 12, 2013, almost one year ago, President Obama’s handpicked NSA Review Group made the following two recommendations.

Recommendation 1: We recommend that section 215 should be amended to authorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to issue a section 215 order compelling a third party to disclose otherwise private information about particular individuals only if:
(1) it finds that the government has reasonable grounds to believe that the particular information sought is relevant to an authorized investigation intended to protect “against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities” and
(2) like a subpoena, the order is reasonable in focus, scope, and breadth.

Recommendation 5: We recommend that legislation should be enacted that terminates the storage of bulk telephony meta-data by the government under section 215, and transitions as soon as reasonably possible to a system in which such meta-data is held instead either by private providers or by a private third party. Access to such data should be permitted only with a section 215 order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that meets the requirements set forth in Recommendation 1.

Since that time, Obama has applied for and will, today, receive authorization for 5 extensions of the phone dragnet:

BR 14-01, signed by Thomas Hogan on January 3, 2014

BR 14-67, signed by Rosemary Collyer on March 28, 2014

BR 14-96, signed by James Zagel on June 19, 2014

BR 14-125, signed by Raymond Dearie on September 11, 2014

Along the way, Obama has instituted prior FISC review, added an emergency provision, given up on an automated query NSA had never been able to implement technically, even while standardizing “connection chaining.” The FISC also had to remind the government it must still abide by the legal requirement for prior First Amendment review, even when obtaining emergency orders.

By my count, the government has made 5 changes (or institutionalized prior changes) since the time Obama’s hand-picked review group recommended he give up the dragnet. As I noted yesterday, over the last year, 5 different Democrats have called on Obama to end the dragnet without waiting for legislation.

And yet, sometime today, the dragnet will be extended for another 3 months.

No One Benefits from a One (Wo)Man FISC Court

Over at Just Security, Steve Vladeck takes issue with yet another proposal for a Drone Court.

A new chapter by Professors Amos Guiora and Jeffrey Brand–“Establishment of a Drone Court: A Necessary Restraint on Executive Power“–has been receiving a fair amount ofmedia and blog attention. The chapter differs from some prior calls for a “drone court” in seeing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) not as a model, but rather as a lesson in what not to do–a “non-starter,” in the authors’ words. Nevertheless, the chapter argues, we need a special “Operational Security Court” (OSC) comprised of already sitting Article III district and circuit judges (selected through a far different process from FISC judges) to strike the right balance between the government’s need to protect operational (and national) security and the rights of those targeted for drone operations to contest their targeting (through security cleared lawyers) ex ante.

My take on the proposal is slightly different from Vladeck’s. I take it as a proposal for a Sparkle Pony. The proper response to such a proposal is to point out all the reasons why we can’t have Sparkle Ponies. But I would end up largely where Valdeck is, looking at all the reasons FISC is failing its task, especially now that it has been blown up beyond proportion in the wake of President Bush’s illegal spy program. And Vladeck’s solution — to ensure people can sue after the fact — is a reasonable start.

That said, Vladeck asks an important question.

Finally, there’s the question of why an entire new court(the “OSC”) is needed at all. What’s wrong with giving the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia exclusive original jurisdiction over these proceedings–as the Supreme Court has effectively provided in the secrecy-laden Guantánamo habeas cases? Even if one believes that ex ante judicial review of drone strikes is constitutionally and pragmatically feasible, why reinvent the wheel when there are perfectly good judges sitting in a perfectly good courthouse replete with experience in highly classified proceedings? 

In my insistence it’s time to get rid of FISC, I’ve been thinking the same thing: why can’t we just have all the DC District judges rule on these cases?

The biggest drawback I see in this is that it would mean the judges presiding over national security criminal cases — not even Espionage cases, which are more likely to be charged in EDVA — are not the same who preside over the National Security Court decisions. Just as an example, I think it important that a bunch of judges in Portland, OR are presiding over some of the more interesting national security cases. And for that reason I’m fascinated that Michael Mosman, who is presiding over the case of Reaz Qadir Khan, is also a FISC judge. While I don’t think Mosman brings a neutral approach to the Khan case, I do think he may be learning things about how the FISC programs work in practice.

But both sides of this debate, both the government and reformers, could point to Vladeck’s proposal as a vast improvement. That’s because it gets us out of what has become a series of one person courts.

Partly for logistical reasons (and potentially even for security reasons), rather than a court of 11 judges presiding over these expanding counterterrorism programs, we’ve actually had a series of single judges: Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who presided over at least the Internet dragnet, some other important Pen Register rulings, and several initial Protect America Act reviews, then mostly Reggie Walton presiding over the Yahoo challenge and then the phone and Internet dragnet fixes, then John Bates presiding over the upstream fix (as well as reauthorizing and expanding the Internet dragnet). Presumably, presiding judge Thomas Hogan has assumed the role of one person court (though I suspect Rosemary Collyer, who is next in line to be presiding in any case, takes on some of this work).

And while I’d find great fault with some of Kollar-Kotelly and Bates’ rulings (and even some of Walton’s), I suspect the NatSec establishment was thrilled to see the end of  Walton on the court, because he dared to consider questions thoughtfully and occasionally impose limits on the intelligence programs.

No one benefits from having what works out to be primarily one judge review such massive programs. But that’s what we’ve effectively got now, and because it operates in secret, there’s no apparent check on really boneheaded decisions by these individual judges.

There are a lot of reasons to replace the FISC with review by normal judges, and one of them is that the current system tends to concentrate the review of massive spying programs in the hands of one or two judges alone.

The Verizon Publicity Stunt, Mosaic Theory, and Collective Fourth Amendment Rights

On Friday, I Con the Record revealed that a telecom — Ellen Nakashima confirms it was Verizon — asked the FISA Court to make sure its January 3 order authorizing the phone dragnet had considered Judge Richard Leon’s December 16 decision that it was unconstitutional. On March 20, Judge Rosemary Collyer issued an opinion upholding the program.

Rosemary Collyer’s plea for help

Ultimately, in an opinion that is less shitty than FISC’s previous attempts to make this argument, Collyer examines the US v. Jones decision at length and holds that Smith v. Maryland remains controlling, mostly because no majority has overturned it and SCOTUS has provided no real guidance as to how one might do so. (Her analysis raises some of the nuances I laid out here.)

The section of her opinion rejecting the “mosaic theory” that argues the cumulative effect of otherwise legal surveillance may constitute a search almost reads like a cry for help, for guidance in the face of the obvious fact that the dragnet is excessive and the precedent that says it remains legal.

A threshold question is which standard should govern; as discussed above, the court of appeals’ decision in Maynard and two concurrences in Jones suggest three different standards. See Kerr, “The Mosaic Theory of the Fourth Amendment,” 111 Mich. L. Rev. at 329. Another question is how to group Government actions in assessing whether the aggregate conduct constitutes a search.See id. For example, “[w]hich surveillance methods prompt a mosaic approach? Should courts group across surveillance methods? If so, how? Id. Still another question is how to analyze the reasonableness of mosaic searches, which “do not fit an obvious doctrinal box for determining reasonableness.” Id. Courts adopting a mosaic theory would also have to determine whether, and to what extent, the exclusionary rule applies: Does it “extend over all the mosaic or only the surveillance that crossed the line to trigger a search?”

[snip]

Any such overhaul of Fourth Amendment law is for the Supreme Court, rather than this Court, to initiate. While the concurring opinions in Jones may signal that some or even most of the Justices are ready to revisit certain settled Fourth Amendment principles, the decision in Jones itself breaks no new ground concerning the third-party disclosure doctrine generally or Smith specifically. The concurring opinions notwithstanding, Jones simply cannot be read as inviting the lower courts to rewrite Fourth Amendment law in this area.

As I read these passages, I imagined that Collyer was trying to do more than 1) point to how many problems overruling the dragnet would cause and 2) uphold the dignity of the rubber stamp FISC and its 36+ previous decisions the phone dragnet is legal.

There is reason to believe she knows what we don’t, at least not officially: that even within the scope of the phone dragnet, the dragnet is part of more comprehensive mosaic surveillance, because it correlates across platforms and identities. And all that’s before you consider how, once dumped into the corporate store and exposed to NSA’s “full range of analytic tradecraft,” innocent Americans might be fingerprinted to include our lifestyles.

That is, not only doesn’t Collyer see a way (because of legal boundary concerns about the dragnet generally, and possibly because of institutional concerns about FISC) to rule the dragnet illegal, but I suspect she sees the reverberations that such a ruling would have on the NSA’s larger project, which very much is about building mosaics of intelligence.

No wonder the government is keeping that August 20, 2008 opinion secret, if it indeed discusses the correlations function in the dragnet, because it may well affect whether the dragnet gets assessed as part of the mosaic NSA uses it as.

Verizon’s flaccid but public legal complaint

Now, you might think such language in Collyer’s opinion would invite Verizon to appeal this decision. But given this lukewarm effort, it seems unlikely to do so. Consider the following details:

Leon issued his decision December 16. Verizon did not ask the FISC for guidance (which makes sense because they are only permitted to challenge orders).

Verizon got a new Secondary Order after the January 3 reauthorization. It did not immediately challenge the order.

It only got around to doing so on January 22 (interestingly, a few days after ODNI exposed Verizon’s role in the phone dragnet a second time), and didn’t do several things — like asking for a hearing or challenging the legality of the dragnet under 50 USC 1861 as applied — that might reflect real concern about anything but the public appearance of legality. (Note, that timing is of particular interest, given that the very next day, on January 23, PCLOB would issue its report finding the dragnet did not adhere to Section 215 generally.)

Indeed, this challenge might not have generated a separate opinion if the government weren’t so boneheaded about secrecy.

Verizon’s petition is less a challenge of the program than an inquiry whether the FISC has considered Leon’s opinion.

It may well be the case that this Court, in issuing the January 3,2014 production order, has already considered and rejected the analysis contained in the Memorandum Order. [redacted] has not been provided with the Court’s underlying legal analysis, however, nor [redacted] been allowed access to such analysis previously, and the order [redacted] does not refer to any consideration given to Judge Leon’s Memorandum Opinion. In light of Judge Leon’s Opinion, it is appropriate [redacted] inquire directly of the Court into the legal basis for the January 3, 2014 production order,

As it turns out, Judge Thomas Hogan (who will take over the thankless presiding judge position from Reggie Walton next month) did consider Leon’s opinion in his January 3 order, as he noted in a footnote.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 10.49.42 AM

And that’s about all the government said in its response to the petition (see paragraph 3): that Hogan considered it so the FISC should just affirm it.

Verizon didn’t know that Hogan had considered the opinion, of course, because it never gets Primary Orders (as it makes clear in its petition) and so is not permitted to know the legal logic behind the dragnet unless it asks nicely, which is all this amounted to at first.

Note that the government issued its response (as set by Collyer’s scheduling order) on February 12, the same day it released Hogan’s order and its own successful motion to amend it. So ultimately this headache arose, in part, because of the secrecy with which it treats even its most important corporate spying partners, which only learn about these legal arguments on the same schedule as the rest of us peons.

Yet in spite of the government’s effort to dismiss the issue by referencing Hogan’s footnote, Collyer said because Verizon submitted a petition, “the undersigned Judge must consider the issue anew.” Whether or not she was really required to or could have just pointed to the footnote that had been made public, I don’t know. But that is how we got this new opinion.

Finally, note that Collyer made the decision to unseal this opinion on her own. Just as interesting, while neither side objected to doing so, Verizon specifically suggested the opinion could be released with no redactions, meaning its name would appear unredacted.

The government contends that certain information in these Court records (most notably, Petitioner’s identity as the recipient of the challenged production order) is classified and should remain redacted in versions of the documents that are released to the public. See Gov’t Mem. at 1. Petitioner, on the other hand, “request[s] no redactions should the Court decide to unseal and publish the specified documents.” Pet. Mem. at 5. Petitioner states that its petition “is based entirely on an assessment of [its] own equities” and not on “the potential national security effects of publication,” which it “is in no position to evaluate.” Id.

I’ll return to this. But understand that Verizon wanted this opinion — as well as its own request for it — public.

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Judge Collyer’s Factually Erroneous Freelance Rubber Stamp for Killing American Citizens

As I noted on Friday, Judge Rosemary Collyer threw out the Bivens challenge to the drone killings of Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.

The decision was really odd: in an effort to preserve some hope that US citizens might have redress against being executed with no due process, she rejects the government’s claims that she has no authority to decide the propriety of the case. But then, by citing precedents rejecting Bivens suits, including one on torture in the DC Circuit and Padilla’s challenge in the Fourth, she creates special factors specifically tied to the fact that Awlaki was a horrible person, rather than that national security writ large gives the Executive unfettered power to execute at will, and then uses these special factors she invents on her own to reject the possibility an American could obtain any redress for unconstitutional executions. (See Steve Vladeck for an assessment of this ruling in the context of prior Bivens precedent.)

The whole thing lies atop something else: the government’s refusal to provide Collyer even as much information as they had provided John Bates in 2010 when Anwar al-Awlaki’s father had tried to pre-emptively sue before his son was drone-killed.

On December 26, Collyer ordered the government to provide classified information on how it decides to kill American citizens.

MINUTE ORDER requiring the United States, an interested party 19 , to lodge no later than January 24, 2014, classified declaration(s) with court security officers, in camera and ex parte, in order to provide to the Court information implicated by the allegations in this case and why its disclosure reasonably could be expected to harm national security…, include[ing] information needed to address whether or not, or under what circumstances, the United States may target a particular foreign terrorist organization and its senior leadership, the specific threat posed by… Anwar-al Aulaqi, and other matters that plaintiff[s have] put at issue, including any criteria governing the use of lethal force, updated to address the facts of this record.

Two weeks later, the government moved to reconsider, both on jurisdictional grounds and because, it said, Collyer didn’t need the information to dismiss the case.

Beyond the jurisdictional issue, the Court should vacate its Order because Defendants’ motion to dismiss, which raises the threshold defenses of the political question doctrine, special factors, and qualified immunity, remains pending. The information requested, besides being classified, is not germane to Defendants’ pending motion, which accepts Plaintiffs’ well-pled facts as true.

As part of their motion, however, the government admitted to supplementing the plaintiffs’ facts.

Defendants’ argument that decedents’ constitutional rights were not violated assumed the truth of Plaintiffs’ factual allegations, and supplemented those allegations only with judicially noticeable public information, the content of which Plaintiffs did not and do not dispute.

The plaintiffs even disputed that they didn’t dispute these claims, pointing out that they had introduced claims about:

  • AQAP’s status vis a vis al Qaeda
  • Whether the US is in an armed conflict with AQAP
  • The basis for Awlaki’s listing as a Special Designated Global Terrorist

Ultimately, even Collyer scolds the government for misstating the claims alleged in the complaint.

The United States argued that the factual information that the Court requested was not relevant to the Defendants’ special factors argument because special factors precluded Plaintiffs’ cause of action, given the context in which the claims, “as pled,” arose––that is, “the alleged firing of missiles by military and intelligence officers at enemies in a foreign country in the course of an armed conflict.” Mot. for Recons. & to Stay Order at ECF 10. The United States, however, mischaracterizes the Complaint. Continue reading

DC Circuit Sends CIA’s Glomar Claims Back to the Drawing Board

The DC Circuit just remanded the ACLU’s drone targeted killing lawsuit (the one I talked about here) to the District Court.

The decision is based on a theory Merrick Garland used in the hearing (which Wells Bennett analyzed here). Whether or not the CIA had admitted to the agency being involved in drones, it had admitted to having an interest in them. Which makes any claim that it cannot reveal it has documents ridiculous.

And there is still more. In 2009, then-Director of the CIA Leon Panetta delivered remarks at the Pacific Council on International Policy. In answer to a question about “remote drone strikes” in the tribal regions of Pakistan, Director Panetta stated:

[O]bviously because these are covert and secret operations I can’t go into particulars. I think it does suffice to say that these operations have been very effective because they have been very precise in terms of the targeting and it involved a minimum of collateral damage. . . . I can assure you that in terms of that particular area, it is very precise and it is very limited in terms of collateral damage and, very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership.8

It is hard to see how the CIA Director could have made his Agency’s knowledge of — and therefore “interest” in — drone strikes any clearer. And given these statements by the Director, the President, and the President’s counterterrorism advisor, the Agency’s declaration that “no authorized CIA or Executive Branch official has disclosed whether or not the CIA . . . has an interest in drone strikes,” Cole Decl. ¶ 43; see CIA Br. 43, is at this point neither logical nor plausible.

It is true, of course, that neither the President nor any other official has specifically stated that the CIA has documents relating to drone strikes, as compared to an interest in such strikes. At this stage of this case, however, those are not distinct issues. The only reason the Agency has given for refusing to disclose whether it has documents is that such disclosure would reveal whether it has an interest in drone strikes; it does not contend that it has a reason for refusing to confirm or deny the existence of documents that is independent from its reason for refusing to confirm or deny its interest in that subject. And more to the point, as it is now clear that the Agency does have an interest in drone strikes, it beggars belief that it does not also have documents relating to the subject.

But again, there is more. In the above-quoted excerpt from the CIA Director’s Pacific Council remarks, the Director spoke directly about the precision of targeted drone strikes, the level of collateral damage they cause, and their usefulness in comparison to other weapons and tactics. Given those statements, it is implausible that the CIA does not possess a single document on the subject of drone strikes. Continue reading

Targeted Killing Timeline

A timeline!

I’ve been working on this timeline for almost nine months, trying to pull together the known dates about strikes against Americans, the evidence supporting the strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, the legal cases surrounding both targeted killing and torture, to which targeted killing is linked via the Memorandum of Notification, and Congressional efforts to exercise oversight.

September 17, 2001: George Bush signs Memorandum of Notification (henceforth, Gloves Come Off MON) authorizing a range of counterterrorism techniques, including torture and targeted killing.

September 18, 2001: Congress passes the Authorization to Use Military Force.

November 3, 2002: US citizen Kamal Derwish killed in drone purportedly targeting Abu Ali al-Harithi.

Late 2008: Ruben Shumpert reported killed in Somalia.

June 24, 2009: Leon Panetta gets briefed on assassination squad program.

June 26, 2009: HPSCI passes a funding authorization report expanding the Gang of Eight briefings.

July 8, 2009: The Administration responds with an insulting appeal to a “fundamental compact” between Congress and the President on intelligence matters.

July 8, 2009: Silvestre Reyes announces CIA lied to Congress.

October 26, 2009: British High Court first orders British government to release language on Binyam Mohamed’s treatment.

October 28, 2009: FBI kills Imam Luqman Asmeen Abdullah during Dearborn, MI arrest raid.

October 29, 2009: Hearing on declassifying mention of Gloves Come Off MON before Judge Alvin Hellerstein; in it, Hellerstein reveals NSA James Jones has submitted declaration to keep mention of MON secret.

November 5, 2009: Nidal Hasan attacks Fort Hood, killing 13.

December 24, 2009: JSOC tries but fails to hit Anwar al-Awlaki. On that day, the IC did not yet believe him to be operational.

December 25, 2009: With Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attack, FBI develops full understanding of Awlaki’s operational goals.

January 2, 2010: In conversation with David Petraeus, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks as if Awlaki, whom he refers to as a cleric, not an AQAP member, was a designated target of December 24 attack.

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Is the Government Worried about Revealing Broader Targeted Killing Authority in the Drone FOIAs?

In addition to yesterday’s letter’s explanation that the government needed an extension in ACLU and NYT’s Anwar al-Awlaki drone FOIA because Obama and/or his closest aides–the highest level of the Executive Branch–were getting involved, there was one other interesting phrase I wanted to note: the way in which it portrays the FOIA.

We write respectfully on behalf of the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency (collectively, the “Government”) to seek a further extension until May 21, 2012, of the Government’s deadline to file its consolidated motion for summary judgment in these related Freedom of Information Act cases seeking records pertaining to alleged targeted lethal operations directed at U.S. citizens and others affiliated with al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. [my emphasis]

That description doesn’t precisely match the request in any of the three FOIAs, which ask for:

ACLU: the legal authority and factual basis of the targeted killing of [Anwar] al-Awlaki, Abdulrahman [al-Awlaki], and [Samir] Khan.

NYT Savage: all Office of Legal Counsel memorandums analyzing the circumstances under which it would be lawful for United States armed forces or intelligence community assets to target for killing a United States citizen who is deemed to be a terrorist.

NYT Shane: all Office of Legal Counsel opinions or memoranda since 2001 that address the legal status of targeted killings, assassination, or killing people suspected of ties to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups by employees or contractors of the United States government.

The government seems squeamish, first of all, about repeating the language used in all three of these requests–targeted killing–opting instead for the phrase “targeted lethal operations.” Note, significantly, that these requests, and especially Shane’s, would not be limited to drone strikes, but also would include hit squads.

The government understandably opts not to use the names specified by ACLU, opting instead to use the generic “US citizen” used by Savage.

Equally understandably, it uses Shane’s language to describe the target: “Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.” But I find the adoption of Shane’s formulation significant, because it is much broader than the language from the AUMF:

those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons

And somewhat broader than the language from the NDAA:

person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners

Now, it’s not just Shane’s language that broadens the scope here. None of the three requests mention AQAP, which would at least give the government the ability to focus on questions about how it decided that Awlaki was a legitimate target under the AUMF (on that topic, note this exchange between Robert Chesney and Bruce Ackerman). Both NYT requests ask for information about targeting terrorists generally. Which might get into some interesting targeting decisions both specific to Pakistan (for example, the original decision to target Beitullah Mehsud–and therefore the Pakistani Taliban–was based on a potentially erroneous information about a dirty bomb) and more generally in places like Gaza or Iran or Latin America.

In other words, if the government maintains it has the authority to assassinate terrorists, generally, perhaps tied to the Iraq AUMF or perhaps tied to the Gloves Come Off MON, then this language might make it hard for the government to provide a tidy response to this FOIA.

Continue reading

Rummy Lawyers Up … To Defend Ordering Death Threats?

Josh Gerstein reports that the government has withdrawn from defending Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Jose Padilla suit Judge Richard Mark Gergel dismissed the other day. (h/t MD)

The Justice Department under President Barack Obama has quietly dropped its legal representation of more than a dozen Bush-era Pentagon and administration officials – including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and aide Paul Wolfowitz – in a lawsuit by Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla, who spent years behind bars without charges in conditions his lawyers compare to torture.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that the government has agreed to retain private lawyers for the officials, at a cost of up to $200 per hour. Miller said “conflicts concerns” prompted the decision. He did not elaborate.

One private attorney involved in the case, who asked not to be named, said the Obama administration apparently concluded “its duty to represent the defendants zealously, which includes the duty to argue any and all defenses, can’t be discharged for reasons of policy and other government interests.”

That’s mighty interesting. Because the last time DOJ withdrew from defending such a high profile defendant was John Yoo, in the partner lawsuit in this case, in which Padilla is suing Yoo for his horrible OLC memos. The DOJ withdrew from defending Yoo just two weeks before DOJ finished the OPR Report (on July 29, 2009) finding grave problems with the OLC memos John Yoo wrote authorizing torture. The very memos Padilla sued Yoo about.

Which makes this observation from Gerstein and Stephen Gillers all the more interesting.

Legal ethics experts said the Justice Department’s withdrawal could stem from qualms about a full-throated defense of Padilla’s treatment while in military custody. His lawyers claim that Padilla’s captors in the brig subjected him to abuse including sensory deprivation, prolonged isolation, imminent death threats, forced drugging and interference with his practice of Islam.

“Some of the [defendants] may have wanted to make more extreme arguments about the legality of their conduct than the Justice Department was willing to accept,” said Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University. [my emphasis]

That same OPR Report would virtually prohibit DOJ from helping Rummy and others defend the claim that death threats used on Padilla were legal. After all, we know that mock burials–a kind of death threat–were just about the only thing that John Yoo said was illegal!

Now, as it happens, Judge Collyer, in the ACLU’s FOIA case, appears to have made a really ridiculous argument that DOJ’s declassification of that reference to mock burial does not amount to an acknowledgment that Yoo judged death threats, more generally, to be illegal. And the death threats used against Rahim al-Nashiri at least allegedly are still being investigated.

But it would be mighty interesting if this were all about death threats. Padilla’s lawyers are suing because–among other reasons–Rummy ordered up treatment that included death threats. And that’s the only thing our Department of Justice has deemed illegal.

Judge: Government Can Shield Its Conversations about Engaging in Torture

Josh Gerstein reports that a Federal Judge has rejected ACLU’s effort to get the government to remove more of the redactions in the OPR Report on the torture memos. Judge Rosemary Collyer basically argued that the President’s need to get candid advice on how to make torture legal trumps citizens’ right to know about such illegal activity.

Rather than arguing that exemptions (b)(1) and (3) are inapplicable under the Executive Order or the proffered statutes, Plaintiffs argue that the substance of the redactions: (1) the names of the detainees; and (2) the “actual and potential implementation” of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including “conditions of confinement” that functioned as part of the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” are unlawful, and therefore fall outside the protection of “intelligence sources and methods” granted by those exemptions. Pls.’ Mem. at 11–24. But, as recently stated by the D.C. Circuit, the illegality of information is immaterial to the classification of such information under exemptions (b)(1) and (3) as intelligent sources or methods.

[snip]

While the Court recognizes the public’s interest, this interest does not overcome the need for frank discussions on serious issues that confront a President. Without a free and candid dialectic, the President cannot be properly armed with the tools required to make difficult decisions on consequential issues. Because the declaration sufficiently details its rationale for redaction, and because the public’s interest does not overcome the privilege in this case, the Court finds that Defendant has satisfied its burden as to the limited redactions withheld pursuant to the presidential communications privilege.

Mind you, the Judge is reading broadly here. For at least one of the meetings, we have evidence a decision was made without the input of the President. Yet she has interpreted meetings of Administration officials where Bush was absent as Presidential communications.

So in reality, she’s not just shielding Bush’s decisions, she’s shielding Cheney’s and Alberto Gonzales’ decisions as well. Eh, I guess she thinks Cheney was really in charge?

Where Judge Collyer’s opinion gets really crazy is where she accepts the government’s argument that, having left its discussion about “mock burial” unredacted in one instance, it does not have to reveal the other instances.

Plaintiffs next argue that the name of the interrogation technique that the CIA considered using, i.e. “mock burial,” has already been unclassifed and thus should be disclosed. It is true that when the government has officially acknowledged information, a FOIA plaintiff may compel disclosure of that information even over an agency’s otherwise valid exemption claim. See Wolf, 473 F.3d at 378; Fitzgibbon, 911 F.2d at 765. For information to qualify as “officially acknowledged,” however, it must satisfy three criteria: (1) the information requested must be as specific as the information previously released; (2) the information requested must match the information previously disclosed; and (3) the information requested must already have been made public through an official and documented disclosure. Id. After reviewing additional information in camera, the Court finds that the redacted information does not match the very broad information previously disclosed. Due to the specificity and context of the redacted information, coupled with the agency affidavit that affirmatively states that: “notwithstanding these prior disclosures (which I took into account when reviewing the Report), many details of the detention and interrogation program and the intelligence activities undertaken in support of it remain classified,” Payne Decl. ¶ 28, the Court is satisfied that this redacted information has not been already “officially acknowledged,” and thus is appropriately redacted pursuant to exemptions (b)(1) and (3) as “intelligent sources or methods.”

Maybe this is particularly sensitive because they actually did use mock burial and mock executions with detainees but didn’t prosecute? Or maybe the CIA just asked her, on the basis that they sometimes referred to mock execution and other times referred to mock burial and other times referred to death threats, these are different specifics?

It gets worse. If you want to ruin your appetite, click through and see how she justified sustaining the redactions of Jennifer Koester’s name.

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emptywheel @NickBaumann Any reason to believe she--who bought house in own name-- covert? Even people who were govt has shown great negligence with
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emptywheel @dnvolz not at all. They've used "torture" for some time.
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emptywheel Glad NYT calling for torture prosecution. Pretty funny to call those who refuse to use T-word blinkered apologists bc NYT just adopted Tword
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emptywheel Remember Curveball? Turns out torture has a Curveball too. http://t.co/b5LvTDojEX
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emptywheel Add torture and the Internet dragnet to Bush programs partly justified by a fabricator. http://t.co/b5LvTDojEX
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JimWhiteGNV RT @GreggJLevine: How false witness helped CIA make a case for torture //very excited to welcome @emptywheel to the pages of @AJAM http://t…
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emptywheel RT @GreggJLevine: How false witness helped CIA make a case for torture //very excited to welcome @emptywheel to the pages of @AJAM http://t…
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