Detainees' Access to Lawyers Is Security Risk, C.I.A. Says
By Scott Shane
New York Times
November 5, 2006
The Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department have told a federal court that permitting lawyers access to high-level Qaeda suspects without tighter secrecy procedures could damage national security by revealing harsh ''alternative interrogation methods'' used in secret C.I.A. prisons overseas.
But lawyers for the suspects say the government's insistence on secrecy is an effort to ''conceal illegal conduct,'' including the torture of the 14 accused Qaeda suspects who were moved from C.I.A. custody to the military's detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September.
The legal battle is taking shape in the case of a legal petition filed in United States District Court in Washington on behalf of Majid Khan, a 26-year-old Pakistani man who spent five years living in the United States. Intelligence officials have accused Mr. Khan of working with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to research how to blow up gasoline stations and poison reservoirs in the United States. Mr. Khan's lawyers and family deny the accusations and assert that if he confessed to such crimes, he did so falsely under harsh interrogation tactics that amounted to torture.
The dispute underscores the complications of the Bush administration's decision two months ago to acknowledge that the 14 terrorism suspects were held in secret for years.
Mr. Khan's petition may also test a provision of the Military Commissions Act, signed by President Bush last month, which bars accused ''enemy combatants'' like Mr. Khan from challenging their imprisonment using habeas corpus petitions filed in United States courts.
Kathleen Blomquist, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said procedures currently in effect at Guantanamo were adequate only for handling information classified as secret, while information regarding the former C.I.A. detainees was classified as top secret.
''Nobody is trying to keep Khan from speaking with his attorney,'' Ms. Blomquist said. ''Rather, the government is asking that the protective order governing the information the detainee shares with his counsel be appropriately tailored to accommodate a higher security level.''
But officials acknowledge that devising new procedures with tighter secrecy is likely to take months. Mr. Khan's attorney, Gitanjali S. Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based advocacy group that represents many Guantanamo prisoners, said in court papers filed Friday that existing rules were adequate to handle top secret information and that the government's real motive was to cover up its ''embarrassing and illegal'' treatment of detainees like Mr. Khan.
''The government should not be allowed to torture someone and use that as a justification to keep that information from the American public,'' Ms. Gutierrez said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Ms. Gutierrez, who has traveled 10 times to Guantanamo since 2003 to visit clients, said that before filing the petition she consulted Majid Khan's wife, Rabia Khan, who lives in Pakistan. She said she had no direct evidence of the interrogation procedures used on Mr. Khan, but some suspected terrorists have been subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, exposure to cold and a technique that simulates drowning.
The Justice Department and C.I.A. raised their objections in documents filed Oct. 26 with Judge Reggie B. Walton. The court filings were first reported by The Washington Post on its Web site on Friday night.