Earlier this week, OpenTheGovernment.org filed a detailed complaint with the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), arguing that even after the release of the Senate torture report’s executive summary last December, the Executive Branch is wrongfully classifying information about the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. Specifically, OpenTheGovernment.org argues that at least five categories of information about the torture program are being kept secret in violation of the Executive Order that governs national security classification.
1. The pseudonyms and titles, and in some cases the names, of CIA officials and contractors implicated in the torture program. The CIA successfully insisted on redacting the titles and pseudonyms of officials implicated in the torture program over the Senate Intelligence Committee’s objections, by claiming that it was necessary to protect undercover agents and their families. OpenTheGovernment.org’s complaint demonstrates that:
–At least two individuals whose titles and aliases are blacked out of the Senate report, Jonathan Fredman and Robert Eatinger, are CIA attorneys who had a crucial role in the legal authorization for torture, and have publicly acknowledged their real names and affiliation with the agency for years.
–According to credible press reports, another key figure in the black site program whom the agency would not allow the Senate to identify by pseudonym, Charlie Wise, died nearly a decade ago.
–The CIA continues to maintain that the identities of contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen and their company Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are classified, even though Mitchell has been released from his CIA non-disclosure agreement and has spoken in detail to the press about his and his company’s role in the torture program.
2. The names of countries that hosted CIA black sites. Not only have the names of the countries that hosted CIA black sites been public for years, but in several cases—Afghanistan, Poland, and Romania—they have openly acknowledged that the CIA held prisoners there. The President of Afghanistan has asked the United States to make further disclosures about the torture of Afghan citizens, and hold the perpetrators responsible. The Polish government and former Polish officials have acknowledged that it allowed the United States to operate a black site. The Polish government has also paid compensation to two former CIA detainees tortured there, and made repeated requests to the U.S. government for evidence and assistance in an ongoing criminal investigation into the black site. Former Romanian officials also recently acknowledged allowing the CIA to hold prisoners. Classification of those countries’ names does not protect them; it only protects the CIA from accountability.
3. Former CIA detainees’ descriptions of the details of their own torture. The Executive Order governing classification states that the government can only classify information that “is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the United States government.” But for years, the U.S. government has successfully prevented former CIA prisoners held in Guantanamo from disclosing their own memories of torture. After the Senate report was released, the CIA revised its classification guidance to relax these restrictions, and the military released one former CIA detainee’s account of his mistreatment. However, the CIA still intends to censor prisoners’ descriptions of where they were tortured, the exact dates of their transfer from one prison to another, and descriptions of the individuals who perpetrated their abuse. And for at least one detainee, Abu Zubaydah, the government continues to claim that all details of his torture are classified. It is past time for this censorship regime to end.
4. The CIA’s involvement in the torture of prisoners in Iraq. The Senate report did not examine the CIA’s treatment of prisoners in military custody, and so the release of the executive summary did not change the agency’s position that the details of its officers’ treatment of prisoners at military prisons in Iraq after the U.S. invasion are classified. OpenTheGovernment.org demonstrates that it has been clear since the release of the Abu Ghraib photographs in 2004 that a CIA officer killed a prisoner at Abu Ghraib, and the CIA’s role in the torture of “ghost detainees” has also been confirmed in several unclassified government documents. This information should therefore be officially declassified.
5. The CIA’s rendition of prisoners to torture in foreign custody. An Appendix to the Senate report lists the names of 119 prisoners who were held in CIA custody. But dozens of other prisoners were “rendered” by the CIA to torture in prisons in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, and other regimes. They have received no official acknowledgment of the United States’ role in their abuse, and their attempts to seek redress for torture have been defeated by official secrecy. OpenTheGovernment.org lists approximately 50 detainees whose “rendition” to foreign custody and subsequent mistreatment has been publicly reported, but never acknowledged by the U.S. government.
The complaint, which is signed by OpenTheGovernment.org’s National Security Fellow, Katherine Hawkins, concludes:
The Executive Order on national security classification formally forbids agencies from classifying information, or failing to declassify information, in order to “conceal violations of law,” “prevent embarrassment,” or “prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection.” It also forbids classification of any information unless “the information is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the United States government.”
Despite these prohibitions, the U.S. government has formally classified many details of an unlawful, embarrassing torture program for well over a decade. Secrecy regarding “black sites” and torture has played a major role in ensuring that no CIA personnel could be prosecuted for torture, war crimes, destruction of evidence, or other relevant federal crimes. It has ensured that civil courts were closed to victims of torture, indefinitely delayed trials of the accused perpetrators of the September 11 attacks, and put the United States in breach of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.
It is important to bear in mind that upholding the classification of the details of the torture program not only conceals illegality, but makes it a crime for individuals with security clearances to reveal or openly discuss it. This complaint is entirely sourced to information in the public domain—but if I held a security clearance, I could not file it without risking my livelihood, and possible prosecution.
The full document is available here.