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No Easy Day, WikiLeaks, and Mitt’s 47%: Three Different Approaches to Illicitly-Released Information

Last week, DOD issued a guidance memo instructing DOD personnel what they are–and are not–permitted to do with the Matt Bissonnettte book, No Easy Day, that they claim has sensitive and maybe even classified information. DOD personnel,

  • are free to purchase NED;
  • are not required to store NED in containers or areas approved for the storage of classified information, unless classified statements in the book have been identified;
  • shall not discuss potentially classified and sensitive unclassified information with persons who do not have an official need to know and an appropriate security clearance;
  • who possess either firsthand knowledge of, or suspect information within NED to be classified or sensitive, shall not publically speculate or discuss potentially classified or sensitive unclassified information outside official U.S. Government channels (e.g., Chain-of-Command, Public Affairs, Security, etc.);
  • are prohibited from using unclassified government computer systems to discuss potentially classified or sensitive contents ofNED, and must not engage in online discussions via social networking or media sites regarding potentially classified or sensitive unclassified information that may be contained in NED.

The memo points to George Little’s earlier flaccid claims that the book contains classified information as the basis for this policy, even though those claims fell far short of an assertion that there was actually classified information in the book.

The strategy behind this policy seems to be to accept the massive release of this information, while prohibiting people from talking about what information in the book is classified or sensitive–or even challenging Little’s half-hearted claim that it is classified. Moreover, few of the people bound by this memo know what the President insta-declassified to be able to tell his own version of the Osama bin Laden raid, so the memo also gags discussions about information that has likely been declassified, not to mention discussions about the few areas where Bissonnette’s version differs from the Administration’s official version.

Still, it does let people access the information and talk about it generally.

Compare that policy with the Administration’s three-prong approach to WikiLeaks information:

  • Government employees cannot discuss–and are not supposed to consult at all–WikiLeaks cables. The treatment of Peter Van Buren for–among other things–linking to some WikiLeaks cables demonstrates the lengths to which the government is willing to go to silence all discussion of the cables. (Though I imagine the surveillance of social media will be similar to enforce the DOD guidance.)
  • Gitmo lawyers not only cannot discuss material–like the dodgy intelligence cable that the government used to imprison Latif until he died of still undisclosed causes or the files that cite tortured confessions to incriminate other detainees–released by WikiLeaks unless the press speaks of them first. But unlike DOD personnel who do not necessarily have a need to know, Gitmo lawyers who do have a need to know couldn’t consult WikiLeaks except in closely controlled secure conditions.
  • The Government will refuse to release cables already released under FOIA. While to some degree, this strategy parallels the DOD approach–whereas the NED policy avoids identifying which is and is not classified information, the WikiLeaks policy avoids admitting that cables everyone knows are authentic are authentic, the policy also serves to improperly hide evidence of illegal activity through improper classification.

Now, one part of the Administration’s logic behind this approach to purportedly classified information (thus far without the legal proof in either case, or even a legal effort to prove in the case of Bissonnette) is to limit discussion of information that was allegedly released via illegal means. Read more

Now That Latif Has Died But His Precedent Lives, DOD Releases List He Would Have Been On

As Josh Gerstein reported, the government has released a list of 55 Gitmo detainees who have been cleared for release.

The list was dated September 21–almost two weeks after Adnan Farhan abd al Latif died. Note, the list makes it clear there are others who have been cleared, but the names of the others “approved for transfer” are “protected by sealed orders issued by the Court of Appeals.” I assume, from that, that these others are the men who have lost habeas cases, probably in the DC Circuit, and the government doesn’t want to admit how many detainees’ habeas cases it fought after having decided on their own account they could release it.

That is, they don’t want to admit how many other detainees are in the position Latif was in: cleared for release, but held on one dodgy intelligence report.

And now that Latif is dead and that Latif precedent is still valid in the DC Circuit, many of the others on the list are presumably facing that same limbo: held on the basis of what the CIA or DOD dubiously claim when they don’t need to be.

Latif, the NDAA, and Mitt’s Moochers

Amy Goodman is doing a 100 city tour to support public outlets that carry Democracy Now. She also gave a talk about the importance of independent media at Grand Rapids Community Media Center.

And, she had me–live!–on her show.

Man I’ve got a lot of hair!

Latif’s Death: A Blow to the Head of Our System of Justice

I’d like to take issue with Ben Wittes’ post on the sadness of Adnan Farhan abd al Latif’s death. I certainly agree with Wittes that Latif’s death is terribly sad. But I object to Wittes’ take on three related grounds. Wittes,

  • Provides a problematic depiction of the justification for Latif’s detention
  • Misstates the importance of Latif’s clearance for release
  • Assigns responsibility for Latif’s continued detention to the wrong people

Wittes tries hard to downplay how much Latif’s death in custody damns Gitmo. But he does so by obscuring a number of key facts all while accusing Gitmo foes of building up “myths.”

A problematic depiction of the justification for Latif’s detention 

Before he talks about how sad this is, Wittes tries to refute the “myths” Gitmo opponents have spread. First, he argues, we should not be arguing Latif was innocent.

Guantanamo’s foes are building up a lot of myths about the Latif case—many of which I don’t buy at all. While I have criticized the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in the case, it does not follow from the decision’s flaws that Latif was an innocent man wrongly locked up for more than a decade. Indeed, as I argued inthis post, it is possible both that the district court misread the evidence as an original matter and that the D.C. Circuit overstepped itself in reversing that decision. The evidence in the case—at least what we can see of it—does not suggest to me that Latif had no meaningful connection to enemy forces. [my emphasis]

After twice using the squirreliest of language, Wittes finally settles on a lukewarm endorsement of the argument that Latif had some “meaningful connection” to the enemy. Curiously, though, he exhibits no such hesitation when he describes Latif this way:

Latif—a guy whose mental state was fragile, who had suffered a head injury, and who seems to have had a long history of self-injury and suicide attempts. [my emphasis]

That’s curious because whether or not Latif continued to suffer from his 1994 head injury was a central issue in whether or not Latif was credible and therefore whether he should be released. Moreover, it is one area where–as I explained in this post–Janice Rogers Brown fixed the deeply flawed argument the government made, thereby inventing a new (equally problematic, IMO) argument the government had not even plead to uphold the presumption of regularity that has probably closed off habeas for just about all other Gitmo detainees.

As you’ll recall, Henry Kennedy found Latif’s argument he had traveled to Afghanistan for medical treatment for his head injury credible because DOD’s own intake form said he had medical records with him when they took custody of him in Kandahar.

Furthermore, there are indications in the record that when Latif was seized traveling from Afghanistan to Pakistan, he was in possession of medical records. JE 46 at 1 (noting that Latif was seized in a “[b]order [t]own in [Pakistan]” with “medical papers”); JE 66 (unidentified government document compiling information about Latif) at 2 (stating that “[Latif] had medical papers but no passport or weapon” when he “surrendered himself to [Pakistani] authorities”).12

David Tatel, too, pointed to that in his dissent: “the most plausible reason for why Latif would have had medical papers in his possession when first seized is that his trip in fact had a medical purpose.”

Yet the government argued that Latif offered no corroboration for his story.

The court improperly gave no adverse weight to the conclusory nature of Latifs declaration, and the lack of corroboration for his account of his trip to Afghanistan, both factors which should have weighed heavily against his credibility.

[snip]

Latif also provided no corroboration for his account of his trip to Afghanistan. He submitted no evidence from a family member, from Ibrahim, or from anyone to corroborate his claim that he was traveling to Pakistan in 2001 to seek medical treatment.

That’s a laughable claim. Latif submitted one of the government’s own documents as corroboration for his story. The government, however–in a brief arguing that all government documents should be entitled to the presumption of regularity–dismissed that corroborating evidence by implying that government document didn’t mean what it said–which is that Latif had medical papers with him when captured.

Respondents argue that these indications are evidence only that Latif said he had medical records with him at the time he was seized rather than that he in fact had them.

The claim is all the more ridiculous given that, unlike the CIA interrogation report the government argued should be entitled to the presumption of regularity, there’s a clear basis for the presumption of regularity of Latif’s intake form: the Army Field Manual. It includes instructions that intake personnel examine documents taken into custody with detainees. They don’t just take detainees’ words for it, they look at the documents.

I’m not suggesting that the government’s claim–that the screener just wrote down whatever Latif said–is impossible; I think it’s very possible. But they can only make that argument if they assume the intake screener deviated from the AFM, and therefore a document created under far more regulated conditions than the CIA report, and one created in US–not Pakistani–custody, should not be entitled to the presumption of regularity. Read more

Janice Rogers Brown and Our Failed Justice System Killed Adnan Farhan abd al Latif

Since the Pentagon announced a detainee died yesterday, I’ve been praying it wouldn’t be Adnan Farhan abd al Latif, even as details suggesting it was–that the detainee who had died had been a hunger striker, that he had never been charged–piled up.

But I knew it was.

The detainee found dead in a maximum-security cell at Guantánamo was a Yemeni captive with a history of suicide attempts who at one time won a federal judge’s release order, only to see his case overturned on appeal and rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The detention center on Tuesday identified the dead captive as Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, in his 30s, held since January 2002 as prisoner No. 156.

Latif was found unconscious in his cell Saturday afternoon, the military said. Guards and military medical staff could not revive him. He was the ninth detainee to die in the 11 years of the detention center.

The military withheld Latif’s identity while the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service began an investigation and the Obama administration notified members of Congress and Latif’s family of the death.

What did they think would happen to this man, against whom there was just one scrap of evidence, an intelligence report, with several acknowledged errors, from an interrogation taken in Pakistani custody at a time when Pakistanis were inventing stories about Arab men for bounties. DOD even had exonerating information about Latif–evidence from their own intake form that he had the medical records showing a head injury he claimed he had  traveled to Pakistan to treat. And DOD had cleared Latif for release over and over and over.

In spite of that, both the Obama Administration and Circuit Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown proceeded on the assumption that inculpatory government records were entitled to a presumption of regularity, but exculpatory ones weren’t.

It was as if it was just a joke, some rigged game to help the Obama Administration shut away Gitmo, back to what it had been before Boumediene.

I’m sure they’ll release a report that Latif finally found a way to bypass all the efforts the government had made to force him to live out this limbo, a probably innocent man rounded up in the confusion after 9/11. I’m sure they’ll say Latif killed himself.

But Latif gave our legal system a good faith effort, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court. And it failed him. It failed to uphold the simple principle that the government’s evidence to hold someone indefinitely should be something more than a single problematic interrogation report refuted by 10 years of interrogations.

And whatever report they release explaining his cause of death, it was that fundamental injustice that killed him. Read more

SCOTUS Kills Habeas Corpus

SCOTUS has just declined to take all seven of the pending Gitmo habeas corpus petitions, including Latif and Uthman.

This effectively kills habeas corpus.

Consider what SCOTUS just blessed:

  • Holding a person indefinitely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time–including a school, a road, and a guest house–where suspect people are.
  • Holding a person indefinitely based on an admittedly error-ridden report the government wrote up itself.
  • Holding a person indefinitely based on pattern analysis.
  • Completely upending the role of District Court judges in the fact-finding process.

 

SCOTUS Reviews the “Military Age Male” Standard on Thursday

One of the most consistent statements of outrage I’ve seen from people just coming to the horrors of the drone program is the military aged male criterion: the Administration’s assumption that all military age males killed in a drone strike must be combatants.

Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Justin Elliott even got the Administration to reiterate the claim, albeit anonymously.

I gave the White House a chance to respond, and it declined to comment on the record. But speaking on condition of anonymity, an administration official acknowledged that the administration does not always know the names or identities of everyone in a location marked for a drone strike.

“As a general matter, it [the Times report] is not wrong that if a group of fighting age males are in a home where we know they are constructing explosives or plotting an attack, it’s assumed that all of them are in on that effort,” the official said. “We’re talking about some of the most remote places in the world, and some of the most paranoid organizations on the planet. If you’re there with them, they know you, they trust you, there’s a reason [you’re] there.” [brackets original]

What no one seems to get, however, is that between them, the Bush and Obama Administrations have been using that standard to detain people for over a decade. Indeed, there are probably over 30 men (I suspect the number is closer to 50) still at Gitmo being held on that standard, most of them for over a decade.

More importantly, SCOTUS will decide whether to uphold that standard on Thursday (or whenever they get around to accepting or denying cert on the 7 Gitmo cases they’ve been agonizing over for weeks).

The case is question is Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman’s habeas petition. Here’s how his cert petition describes the issues presented by his case.

Whether the Authorization of Use of Military Force, Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001) (‘‘AUMF”), authorizes the President to detain, indefinitely and possibly for the rest of his life, an individual who was not shown to have fought for al Qaeda, trained to fight for al Qaeda, or received or executed orders from al Qaeda, and was not claimed to have provided material support to al Qaeda.

The government has always yoked its detention authority closely to its targeted killing authority (see, for example, the reported justification for the Awlaki killing). And here you can replace “detain, indefinitely and possibly for the rest of his life” with “kill with a drone strike” and you’ve got precisely the authority that Obama (and Bush before him) claims to kill all men in the vicinity of suspected al Qaeda figures, even absent any claim they were al Qaeda fighters.

Read more

SCOTUS Grants Clapper Cert, Stalls on Detainee Cases

SCOTUS has just listed orders from last week’s conference, where they had been discussing the handful of Gitmo cases that had petitions for cert pending. It has relisted the detainee cases, which suggests they may need a week or more to sort through their decision.

SCOTUS did, however, grant cert to Clapper v. Amnesty, which I wrote about here and here. On its face, Clapper is just about the FISA Amendments Act. But it also has implications for wiretap exceptions–and, I’ve argued–data mining exceptions to the Fourth Amendment. In any case, SCOTUS seems interested in reversing the 2nd Circuit opinion, which had granted standing to people whose work had been chilled by the passage of the FAA. Also, as I hope to note further today, SCOTUS’ Clapper decision may also impact the Hedges v. Obama ruling from last week.

The Problem with Equating Travel Routes and Terrorism: 34 Dead Civilians

A few weeks back, Seton Hall published a report showing that since the DC Circuit reversed the habeas petition of Mohammed al-Adahi, “the practice of careful judicial fact-finding was replaced by judicial deference to the government’s allegations. Now the government wins every petition.” The report traced a number of factors that, before al-Adahi, judges examined with some skepticism, but after, fairly regularly accepted as evidence that a detainee was a member of al Qaeda.

Among those factors were staying in certain guest houses and traveling a particular route that–the government effectively claimed–meant you were a terrorist. Thus, it no longer mattered whether you had fought for al Qaeda. In the absence of more direct evidence, the government argued that where you traveled was one piece of evidence that you should be detained as a terrorist.

Tellingly, while the government has a declaration they routinely submit in Gitmo cases on the significance of guest houses to al Qaeda, they have not (as far as I know) ever submitted a similar declaration providing evidence for a tie between travel routes and al Qaeda membership (the closest they have is a report on Tora Bora which seems to argue “if you were in this vicinity you must have been in Tora Bora and, Osama bin Laden!”). In fact, that’s part of what infuriated David Tatel in the Latif case–the way the majority opinion simply accepted the government’s evidence about Latif’s travel back to Pakistan–where hundreds of innocent of Arabs were picked up at the time–as corroboration for the error-ridden report the government submitted as its main proof that Latif could be detained.

Latif left Kabul in November 2001 and then traveled through Jalalabad before eventually arriving at the Pakistani border where Pakistani authorities detained him. According to the government, this path mirrors that of Taliban soldiers retreating from Kabul. Although not contending that this evidence is dispositive, the government argues that because Latif’s admitted route is consistent with that of Taliban soldiers and with information in the Report, it is a helpful piece in the puzzle, bolstering its claim that the Report’s inculpatory statements are accurate.

Fair enough, but how helpful? If this route is commonly used by innocent civilians, then the evidence is not that helpful at all. To understand why, consider a simple hypothetical. Suppose the government were to argue in a drug case that the defendant drove north from Miami along I-95, “a known drug route.” Familiar with I-95, we would surely respond that many thousands of non-drug traffickers take that route as well. Given what we know about our own society, the I-95 inference would be too weak even to mention. Cf Almerfedi, 2011 WL 2277607, at *4 n.7 (noting that some conduct such as possessing an AK-47 is so “commonplace in Afghanistan [that it] does not meaningfully distinguish an al Qaeda associate from an innocent civilian”). On the other hand, if the alleged drug trafficker had driven along an infrequently traveled country road, then a contention that that road was “a known drug route” would carry more weight. The burden of proof is on the government to demonstrate whether travel on a particular route to the Pakistani border, when considered in context, is mqre like the lonely country road and thus worthy of consideration when it comes to distinguishing between enemy combatants and innocent civilians.

I raise all this not just to point you to the Seton Hall report, which is well worth your time. But because today, SCOTUS will decide whether or not to accept two cases–Latif and Uthman–in which these issues are central (we won’t find out whether they’ll take the cases until Monday).

And because of this WSJ report, showing the tragic result of assuming that travel patterns must be indicative of terror ties: 34 dead civilians, targeted by Turkish warplanes after a US drone spotted a caravan of Kurdish smugglers using a route frequented by PKK guerrillas.

Above and out of sight, a U.S. Predator drone loitered. It was on a routine patrol when U.S. personnel monitoring its video feeds spotted the caravan just inside Iraq and moving toward the Turkish border, according to U.S. officials and the Pentagon’s assessment of the fatal strike.

U.S. military officers at the Fusion Cell in Ankara couldn’t tell whether the men, bundled in heavy jackets, were civilians or guerrilla fighters. But their location in an area frequented by guerrilla fighters raised suspicions. The Americans alerted their Turkish counterparts.

[snip]

Then Turkish warplanes appeared. “It was like a lightning bolt,” Mr. Encu said. “I saw a bright light and the force of the explosion threw me to the ground…When I turned my head I could see bodies on fire and some were missing their heads.”

Read more

The Government Continues to Play Redaction Games with Latif

I’ve now read all the documents the government issued and reissued on April 30 in some detail (District Court Opinion; Circuit Opinion; Cert Petition; Government Response; Latif Reply). As I’ve noted, in addition to releasing their own response to Adnan Farhan Abd al Latif’s cert petition, the government also released less-redacted versions of the previous filings in the case.

As it turns out, the government primarily released a lot of stuff that would make Janice Rogers Brown’s opinion look less batshit crazy, if you ignore that they had been hiding her Wizard of Oz analogy in the name of national security. For example, it released information making it clear that all the government’s data on whether Latif is married or not is inconsistent, which of course is all blamed on Latif.

The ploy seems to have worked; Ben Wittes, who seems unconcerned that three reports on Latif (his DOD intake form and two conflicting reports from the same interview at Gitmo) prove that such intelligence reports cannot practically be afforded the presumption of regularity without the government’s own case files–and frankly, their case here–falling apart, now thinks “Judge Brown’s reading of [the evidence against Latif] strikes me as very likely preferable to the one the district court adopted.”

That said, with the newly released information, I’m increasingly convinced they’re using the redaction process not to protect national security, but to cheat.

The redactions get worse to make it harder to find problems with the government’s recruiter story

There are a few examples where in this round, the government has actually redacted more information on the second round–mostly information on Ibrahm al-Alawi starting on page 10 in the District Court opinion (compare the “less redacted version” with the original release). Since this stuff is all already available in other documents, this mostly amounts to pettiness, but it does serve to hide a central part of the government’s argument. They claim the similarities between Latif’s story about the charity worker Ibrahim al-Alawi and the known al Qaeda recruiter Ibrahim Balawi (who is usually called Abu Khalud) provides corroboration for the government’s story. Yet none of the eight or so detainees recruited by Abu Khalud IDed Latif. And–as I hope to show–the records on these other detainees suggest they should have been able to, if Abu Khalud and al-Alawi were really the same guy. In other words, while this redaction doesn’t limit the amount of information out there, it does make it harder for people to quickly see how flimsy one crucial part of the government’s argument is.

Adding half a line in the redaction process

More curious appears on page 1 (PDF 68) of the Tatel’s opinion. There appear to be about half a line-which is redacted–that has been added to the third and fourth line of the opinion. As a result, Tatel’s reference to “(the Report)” is shifted onto the next line and the alignment of the entire rest of the paragraph changes.

Here’s the original release:

And here’s the latest release:

Now, the space is about what a reference to the document name–TD-314/00684-02–would take up on the line. Maybe they’ve simply added that. But still, what’s the protocol for just adding something into the record just before SCOTUS reviews it? Did Tatel approve this addition?

Hiding Latif’s explanations for how TD-314/00684-02 implicated him

There’s another apparent redaction that–if I’m right about its content–serves to prevent us from seeing a thoroughly unclassified but nevertheless critical part of Latif’s (or perhaps just David Tatel’s) argument. There are repeated discussions of Latif’s theory for how TD-314/00684-02 got so screwed up as to implicate him in fighting for the Taliban. Kennedy discusses it at 14–though almost all the explanations remain redacted. Rogers Brown summarizes these at 4, though one clause remains redacted.

But Latif says his statements were misunderstood or, alternatively, [redacted] were misattributed to him.

There’s a long discussion on 26 in Rogers Brown and on 24-25 (PDF 92-93) in Tatel. All of these have been newly released in significant part. Except for a key part of Tatel’s argument.

Read more