Not Three Branches, Not Two Branches, Just One Branch of Government

Apparently, in addition to sending out a chain letter stating "butt out" to five or six members of Congress yesterday, DOJ also sent a letter to Judge Henry Kennedy, telling him not to get involved in the torture tape question (h/t Scarecrow).

The Bush administration told a federal judge it was not obligated to preserve videotapes of CIA interrogations of suspected terrorists and urged the court not to look into the tapes’ destruction.

In court documents filed Friday night, government lawyers told U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy that demanding information about the tapes would interfere with current investigations by Congress and the Justice Department.

Now, BushCo is apparently claiming–to Kennedy, at least–that the CIA was free to destroy the torture tapes since the tapes didn’t come from Gitmo.

Kennedy ordered the administration in June 2005 to safeguard "all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay."

Five months later, the CIA destroyed the interrogation videos. The recordings involved suspected terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Government lawyers told Kennedy the tapes were not covered by his court order because Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were not at the Guantanamo military prison in Cuba. The men were being held overseas in a network of secret CIA prisons. By the time President Bush acknowledged the existence of those prisons and the prisoners were transferred to Guantanamo, the tapes had been destroyed.

Of course, such sophistry won’t work for Leonie Brinkema–whose questions about interrogation tapes would seem to have included the Abu Zubaydah tapes. Nor should they cover the FOIA court battle in Alvin Hellerstein’s court, which pertain to all detainees held abroad. Read more

We’re Not Getting the FISA Opinions … Which Leaves Just the Lawsuits

The FISA Court announced today that it will not release its opinions to the public.

The nation’s spy court said Tuesday that it will not release its documents regarding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in a rare on-the-record opinion, said the public has no right right to view the documents because they deal with the clandestine workings of national security agencies.

So um, yo, Senate? If you give the telecoms immunity, we’ll never know how they spied on us.

I’m struck by how similar this opinion–written by John Bates–is to the opinion he wrote in the Wilson lawsuit. He acknowledged that there’s merit to the request, as he suggested that Valerie’s outing was troubling.

Bates acknowledged that the public would benefit from seeing the documents. The decision-making process would be understood, he said, and public oversight could help safeguard against government abuse.

And then, as he did with the Wilson opinion, he said, "um, no."

But the dangers of releasing such sensitive materials far outweigh that public benefit, Bates said.

Public opinions from the court are so rare, it’s not immediately clear what the ACLU’s options are. Because Bates alone signed the ruling, the group might be able ask for a review by the full panel. Or, it might be able to challenge the ruling before a federal appeals court.

Update: Here’s a copy of the opinion.