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May 30, 2014

Senate Torture Report at Issue in Nashiri Case at Guantanamo

The pre-trial hearings were underway again this week at Guantanamo for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind. What was up for debate this time? The defense has requested a copy of the Senate intelligence committee’s report on former CIA detention and interrogation practices, including rendition and torture. The 6,000 page report received a strong bipartisan vote for declassification in April, but the administration has dragged its feet on publicly releasing the definitive report.

Nashiri, who was held in black sites by the CIA from his capture in Dubai in 2002 until his arrival at Guantanamo in 2006, was subjected to torture by the CIA, reportedly including methods that were not approved by Bush Administration lawyers. Defense counsel wants access to the report in order to verify claims made by their client, claims military defense counsel, Army Major Tom Hurley called “fantastical.”

The prosecution countered the defense’s request, arguing that it isn't clear whether the contents of the report are relevant to the case at hand. They requested the court wait to issue a ruling on the motion until later in June, when they said there would be an update on the declassification of a summary of the Senate report, a summary said to be hundreds of pages long. Even so, it is worth noting that the declassified summary would likely not contain specifics such as methods, locations and other pertinent information the defense is seeking to verify their client’s claims.

Although the issue with the report may be just one of many in this case, the deliberations during this session, many of which were classified and not subject to public monitoring, underscore the importance of a timely and complete release of the study.  To date, there has been no official, independent document accounting for the program and for the abuses. Earlier this month, thirty of the nation’s top retired generals and admirals urged the president to lead the way on declassification and not allow the CIA to slow down the process. The report is over five years in the making; the time for the public to know is now.

More broadly, over-classification remains a central issue in the beleaguered Guantanamo military commissions. Delays due to quarrels over classified evidence certainly aren’t uncommon. Judge Pohl was forced to move the trial start date back to February of next year due to a delay caused by a separate motion in which the government is contesting turning over a chronology and other information related to Nashiri’s CIA captivity. 

In January, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Carl Levin wrote a joint letter to the president about over-classification stating, “The delay is further undermining the reputation of the military commissions with the American public and our friends and allies overseas. The continued classification of information also interferes with our country’s long-delayed, but important efforts to publicly shine a light on a misguided CIA program that you rightfully ended almost five years ago.”

The next set of hearings in the case are scheduled for August.