Judge Kollar-Kotelly Sees No Evil, Hears No Evil

Yesterday, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly upheld the government’s right to withhold cables already released via WikiLeaks under FOIA (see my earlier posts on this FOIA here and here). Her logic seems to have a fatal flaw: she says the State Department has proven (and the ACLU has not rebutted the claim) that the US Government owns the cables.

The ACLU simply offers no rejoinder to the State Department’s affirmative showing that all the information at issue (1) was classified by an original classification authority, (2) is owned, produced, or controlled by the United States, and (3) falls within one or more of the eight relevant categories. [my emphasis]

But then she says (noting that ACLU made no mention that these cables had also been released via WikiLeaks and therefore pretending that they might be different) that the government has not officially acknowledged these cables are authentic.

No matter how extensive, the WikiLeaks disclosure is no substitute for an official acknowledgement and the ACLU has not shown that the Executive has officially acknowledged that the specific information at issue was a part of the WikiLeaks disclosure.

I guess they should let Bradley Manning go free, then, since the State Department isn’t prepared to say the cables he is accused of leaking were authentic?

But that’s not the most troubling part of this ruling. As I lay out below–and as Kollar-Kotelly presumably knows well–the cables are full of admissions of crime, including murder, torture, and kidnapping. Thus, had she reviewed them to see whether the government’s claims that they were properly classified are valid, she would have seen that–in addition to information properly classified to protect foreign relations–a lot of the original classification and the government’s refusal to officially release them (which would presumably make them admissible in a court) serve to hide confessions of criminal activity.

So Kollar-Kotelly chose not to review these cables in camera, choosing instead to rely on the State Department declaration that makes no mention of the criminal admissions included in the cables.

In this case, because the State Department’s declarations are sufficiently detailed and the Court is satisfied that no factual dispute remains, the Court declines to exercise its discretion to review the embassy cables in camera.

It was a cowardly ruling. But all the more cowardly, given that Kollar-Kotelly prevented herself from officially reviewing a bunch of evidence of criminal wrong-doing.

Here are details on the cables Kollar-Kotelly doesn’t want to read:

The famous meeting at which Ali Abdullah Saleh promised to lie about our strikes in Yemen

Kollar-Kotelly agreed to keep what has become perhaps the most famous cable ever, in which David Petraeus and Ali Abdullah Saleh discuss the missile strikes we conducted in Yemen in late 2009.

Mind you, the government likely has a very good legal reason to keep this cable secret. The cable makes it clear we were targeting Anwar al-Awlaki (as well as Nasir al-Wuhayshi) in those strikes. And releasing that would constitute official acknowledgement of the targeting of Awlaki that the government has tried so hard to avoid. Furthermore, as I’ll show in a follow-up post, it also shows that we targeted Awlaki for death before we had evidence implicating him in a crime.

Read more

The “Purported” Detainee Assessments

When I posted on the new guidelines the government has given Gitmo lawyers on how they can use the Gitmo Detainee Assessment Briefs released by WikiLeaks, I had not yet seen the guidelines. Here they are.

What’s most interesting to me about the guidelines is the way the government appears to be trying to undercut how questionable these assessments are. As a threshold matter, the guidelines repeat a rule from the Gitmo Protection Order itself, prohibiting lawyers from telling the public that information in these files contradicts the evidence turned over in discovery.

Counsel may not make any public or private statements revealing personal knowledge from non-public sources regarding the classified or protected status of the information or disclosing that counsel had personal access to classified or protected information confirming, contradicting, or otherwise relating to the information already in the public domain.

Hypothetically, in other words, in the case of Saifullah Paracha, where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed claimed during the month he was waterboarded 183 times that Paracha had been plotting to ship explosives in a shipping container full of children’s clothing, if KSM had subsequently retracted that claim, his lawyer would be unable to tell us that.

More interesting to me, though, is the groundwork the government establishes to pretend the WikiLeak DABs might not be real. Part of this is presumably just a way to suggest that everything in the DABs may be classified.

Although the U.S. Government has confirmed that purported detainee assessments were leaked to WikiLeaks, it has neither confirmed nor denied that individual reports are official government documents. All purported detainee assessments posted on the WikiLeaks website, or on other sites, therefore should be treated as potentially classified information.

But the government uses the word “purported” seven times total in a document just barely longer than two pages.

Perhaps they’re hoping that as it becomes clear the documents are contradicted by public domain works (as Paracha’s is regarding its claims about when the US first took custody of Aafia Siddiqui, for example), they can just claim these are real documents, so never mind.

What’s clear, though, is the government has been lying internally. It’s not classified or unclassified information at risk here–it’s out and out lies in official documents.

Saifullah Paracha’s Gitmo File Contains Suspect Details, but His Defense Attorney Can’t Point Them Out

I’m going to be in transit for another half day yet, but I wanted to comment on this motion David Remes, Gitmo detainee Saifullah Paracha’s attorney, filed to request emergency access to the Detainee Assessment Brief on his client released by WikiLeaks on Monday. (h/t Benjamin Wittes)  Remes describes the implications of the protection order he works under, noting specifically the warning DOJ sent out the other day.

For example, because the government considers the documents classified, and counsel holds a “secret” security clearance, he is concerned that if he views the documents online, the government might revoke his clearance. Losing his clearance will disable him from continuing to represent his current or future detainee clients and jeopardize his ability to obtain further clearances. Counsel is concerned that the government may even prosecute him. To avoid any potential sanctions, undersigned counsel errs on the side of extreme caution and refrains from viewing the documents.

The only place undersigned counsel can view these documents and fear no potential sanctions is at a Secure Facility the Justice Department has provided in the Washington area for counsel with “secret” level clearances. To the best of counsel’s knowledge, the Secure Facility contains no secure computer onto which the Wikileaks documents can be downloaded. Moreover, counsel is confident that the Justice Department will not ferry the documents to the Secure Facility for viewing and use by counsel. Even if the leaked documents were made available for viewing and use by counsel at the Secure Facility, counsel located far from the Facility – some thousands of miles away – would have to journey to the Facility to view and use them. [my emphasis]

That is, Remes could view the documents in just one place without risking losing his clearance and his ability to defend his client, or even criminal sanctions–a DOJ Secure Facility. Yet DOJ is not going to make the documents accessible there. So he’s SOL; he can’t see them.

Remes goes on to describe how this prevents him from defending his client publicly, specifically because he can’t comment for a big article the NYT did which (IMO) offered a credulous reading of Paracha’s file. While that article contains a quote from ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi noting that the information in the files is uncorroborated, and while NYT admits much of the evidence derives from KSM whom they note was waterboarded, rather than point out obvious suspect details in Paracha’s file, it simply repeats those details uncritically.

Here’s just one reason why Remes needs to have access to the file to adequately represent his client and refute credulous readings of Paracha’s file:

(S//NF) The plan called for shipping explosives in containers that detainee used to ship women’s and children’s clothing to the US. Detainee agreed to this plan. KU-10024 [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] claimed in early March 2003, PK-10020 and PK-10018 [Ammar al-Baluchi, KSM’s nephew] were arranging the details with detainee and his son Uzair. KU-10024 stated detainee knew all the details of the plan. Uzair understood PK-10018 and PK-10020 were al-Qaida, but KU-10024 was unsure how much Uzair [Paracha’s son] knew about the actual smuggling plan.8 [my emphasis]

There are, in general, just two kinds of evidence offered by KSM in March 2003: evidence the CIA itself claims was disinformation offered by KSM in his early days of captivity while he was still successfully resisting interrogation, and evidence offered up under torture, potentially one of the 183 waterboarding sessions KSM survived in March 2003.

It’s unclear which category this piece of intelligence falls into, but the use of the verb “claimed” suggests there’s something about the intelligence that may have led even the briefer on Paracha’s file to doubt it.

The intelligence report cited for this detail (and therefore collected in March 2003), TD-314/16519-03, is cited three more times in Paracha’s file, only one of which is corroborated by reports dated 2004 and 2005.

In other words, one of the claims against Paracha can be traced back to a March 2003 interrogation of KSM that no one should consider credible. The entire case against Paracha builds off this early interrogation.

There are a number of other reasons to doubt the “facts” laid out in Paracha’s file. Notably, references to Aafia Siddiqui make no mention of her earlier reported detention by the US in Afghanistan, and instead claims “Siddiqui was detained in Afghanistan in mid-July 2008,” thereby hiding a key detail as to the credibility of any intelligence Siddiqui may have offered (or, just as likely, making no mention of intelligence Siddiqui refuted during years of interrogation in US custody in Afghanistan).

Parts of Paracha’s file reveal real weaknesses in the government’s case against him. These are all very basic details Remes needs to point out, particularly if NYT reporters aren’t going to read the file critically themselves. But given the way the protection order works, he can’t do that.

Has Aafia Siddiqui’s Daughter Surfaced?

Aafia Siddiqui has been at the center of one of the many mysteries flowing from the Bush and Obama administrations’ conduct of  intelligence operations. A Pakistani native and former MIT scientist, background on Siddiqui can be found several places, including a Seminal diary by ondelette here.

The stories of Siddiqui’s disappearance and  her recent trial in the US are too convoluted to easily summarize.  For purposes of the story now emerging — the possible appearance of Siddiqui’s daughter — the bare bones are that, after returning to Pakistan from the US, Aafia Siddiqui was named by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in his US-run torture interrogations.  Shortly thereafter, in March, 2003, Siddiqui disappeared. Her three children —  oldest son Ahmed, 4-year-old Maryam and her infant son, Suleman — disappeared with her.

After seven years, Siddiqui suddenly reappeared in Afghanistan, where the US alleged she was involved in the attempted shooting of an American soldier as she was being detained for interrogation. When Aafia was  apprehended in Afghanistan, a boy was with her. The US handed off the boy to Afghan intelligence while they shipped Siddiqui to the US for trial.

Pakistan became involved diplomatically over the child and demanded his return. He was handed over to Siddiqui’s family in Pakistan, but her other children have remained missing. There has been controversy in Pakistan over the status of the boy and whether he truly was Siddiqui’s son or not.

Last weekend a girl approximately 12 years old, who spoke only English and Persian and claimed her name was  “Fatima,” was dropped off in front of the home of Siddiqui’s sister.  Some stories indicate an American named “John” may have been with her. Dawn reported a senior policeman described that the girl was:

… wearing a collar “bearing the address of the house in case she wandered off”.

That was last week.

This week, April 11 marks the start of a visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, to the Read more