DC Circuit: No need to release full info on high value detainees (ACLU v. U.S. Dep’t of Def)

(ASIL) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the U.S. government regarding the release of documents related to fourteen “high value” detainees held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay. The request for the release of the documents was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The U.S. government had released redacted versions of the documents requested by the ACLU; however, information regarding the capture, detention, and interrogation of the detainees was not released. The government defended its actions on the basis that the information in question was properly withheld under FOIA exemptions, which allow the withholding of government information related to “intelligence sources and methods.” The district court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment, finding the government in compliance with FOIA. The ACLU appealed.

During the appeal, President Obama issued three Executive Orders on detention and interrogation and declassified and released four Department of Justice memoranda on the legality of enhanced interrogation techniques. In addition, information regarding treatment of “high value” detainees was leaked, and a CIA report on the CIA’s interrogation techniques was released. These changes prompted the Court of Appeals to remand the case back to district court to “provide the CIA with the opportunity to ‘reprocess’ the requested documents.” The result was the release of a complete combatant status review tribunal transcript and revision of redactions of five other transcripts. The government again filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted, and again, the ACLU appealed.

In a detailed discussion of FOIA and the relevant exemptions, the Court of Appeals rejected all of the ACLU’s claims, including that the information requested has already been declassified and is publically available; that the interrogation techniques and confinement methods were “prohibited” by the President; that the government could not classify information “derived from the detainee’s personal observations and experiences;” and that the release would not endanger national security.

Comment on Lawfare blog here.

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