Supreme Court rules CIA doesn’t have to disclose “black sites” used for torture
In a complicated ruling on whether the CIA could refuse to acknowledge the existence of so-called “black sites” that were used to interrogate (as in “torture”) suspected terrorists, the Supreme Court said the government could keep the sites secret.
Even though their locations were already in the public record. As were the horrors committed there, in the name of keeping America “safe.” The case arose out of a guy who the government suspected was a top Al Qaeda leader. He wasn’t. But they tortured him extensively just to make sure:
…Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and has been held by the U.S. since then under the belief that he was a senior Al Qaeda leader potentially planning further terrorist attacks against the United States. He was tortured extensively by the CIA, waterboarded dozens of times. He’s currently a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay.
Zubaydah was reportedly held at a CIA black site in Poland as part of these interrogations. He has sued to try to hold the people who tortured him accountable. The European Court of Human Rights has already ruled that Poland violated the law when it cooperated with the CIA. The CIA and federal government, though, have refused to verify or validate that this black site actually existed. In the United States, the federal government has attempted to quash subpoenas of two former CIA contractors—James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two psychologists who consulted with the agency to develop the interrogation program—as part of Zubaydah’s legal challenges. Even though there has been extensive press coverage and reports about the extent of the U.S. torture of prisoners, the CIA insists that acknowledging the existence of a black site in Poland falls under “state secrets” and that courts cannot force them to disclose the info.
Forget accountability, retiring Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. What we need to protect is secrecy:
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote most of the court’s opinion, accepting the government’s claim that even just confirming the existence of a black site in Poland is a threat to national security. The ruling is deferential to the authority of the executive branch to decide what falls under a national security interest and, therefore, can be kept secret. In this case, the CIA says that revealing whether we had a black site in Poland could impact intelligence-gathering efforts and “sensitive” relationships.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito concurred separately because Breyer’s opinion wasn’t deferential enough to the government.
What is it these be-robed solons think needs to be kept so secret? Justice Gorsuch summarized it in his separate opinion:
In an effort to extract…information [from Zubaydah], the CIA hired two contractors, James Mitchell and John Jessen, and authorized them to employ what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Mitchell and Jessen worked “on a near 24-hour-per-day basis” starting August 4, 2002. They waterboarded Zubaydah at least 80 times, simulated live burials in coffins for hundreds of hours, and performed rectal exams designed to establish “total control over the detainee.” Six days into his ordeal, Zubaydah was sobbing, twitching, and hyperventilating. During one waterboarding session, Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” He became so compliant that he would prepare for waterboarding at the snap of a finger.
Really, it seems that the government wants this suit dismissed because it hopes to impede the Polish criminal investigation and avoid (or at least delay) further embarrassment for past misdeeds. Perhaps at one level this is easy enough to understand. The facts are hard to face. We know already that our government treated Zubaydah brutally—more than 80 waterboarding sessions, hundreds of hours of live burial, and what it calls “rectal rehydration.” Further evidence along the same lines may lie in the government’s vaults. But as embarrassing as these facts may be, there is no state secret here. This Court’s duty is to the rule of law and the search for truth. We should not let shame obscure our vision.
There. It’s not a secret. But the Court, and the government, will continue to pretend it is. Because it’s a horror they can’t excuse, and an embarrassment they refuse to admit.