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American Civil Liberties Union v. United States Department of Defense

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
628 F.3d 612 (2011)


Fourteen suspected terrorist leaders and operatives, referred to as “high value” detainees, were being held at the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay. Upon arrival, the detainees received hearings before Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs). Even though the Department of Defense (DoD) (defendant) made redacted transcripts of the CSRT proceedings available to the public, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (plaintiff) submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, requests to the DoD, asking for complete transcripts and all records used during the CSRTs. In response, the government provided a number of redacted documents, which failed to disclose certain information about the capture, interrogation, and detention of the detainees. The ACLU filed an action in the district court, challenging the government’s withholdings. The government moved for summary judgment, filing affidavits in support of its position that the withholdings were justified by Exemptions 1 and 3 of the FOIA, which allow nondisclosure of information related to intelligence sources and methods. The government principally relied on an affidavit prepared by Wendy Hilton, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer. The affidavit presented five distinct reasons why public release of the information would harm national security, including damage to government foreign affairs and obstruction of the necessary questioning of terrorist operatives. The district court granted the government’s motion, and the ACLU appealed, arguing that: (1) the information was not exempt, because it was already available to the public in other, similar documents; (2) the interrogation techniques used had since been declared illegal and are therefore not protected intelligence source or method information; and (3) the documents could not be withheld, because public disclosure would not jeopardize national security.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Sentelle, J.)

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