Gitmo detainee loses bid to access government info

Monday, October 11, 2010

WASHINGTON — A Guantanamo Bay detainee who says he was waterboarded lost a legal battle when a federal appeals court ruled that the Obama administration can keep information secret that the prisoner wanted to make public.

The decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia came in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian citizen who is seeking his release from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been held since 2002.

The opinion says the case was originally decided Jan. 8 and the decision was reissued Oct. 6. The Blog of Legal Times reported that the original opinion had been sealed and that news media last month filed a petition to have it unsealed.

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the appeals court said U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle had failed to give substantial deference “to the government’s assessment of its foreign relations and national security interests” if certain information were to be revealed. Huvelle had declared that she didn’t “understand how” revealing the information would “interfere in anything.”

The government’s argument provided a detailed and logical explanation of the impact disclosure would have, appeals Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote.

Brown and one of the other judges on the appeals panel, Thomas Griffith, are appointees of President George W. Bush. The third member of the panel, Douglas Ginsburg, was appointed by Ronald Reagan.

Ameziane told his lawyer that early in his confinement at Guantanamo Bay, guards at the base placed a water hose between his nose and mouth and ran it for several minutes. Ameziane said they repeated the procedure several times, nearly suffocating him.

“I had the impression that my head was sinking in water,” Ameziane wrote in a letter to his lawyer. “I still have psychological injuries, up to this day. Simply thinking of it gives me the chills.”

During the same alleged incident the guards applied pepper spray all over his body, hosed him down and left him shackled and shivering in wet clothes in front of an air conditioner in an interrogation room, according to Ameziane’s account, which became public through his lawyer in 2008.

The government says Ameziane stayed with Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan, and illegally traveled with them into Pakistan.

In March of last year, Huvelle directed the Justice and Defense Departments and a third agency whose identity was blacked out of the ruling to search their files for any recordings or records favorable to Ameziane, and then certify to the court that all evidence supportive of Ameziane had been produced.

Huvelle specified that such evidence would include statements that were the product of abuse or torture.

The following month, the judge rejected the Obama administration’s request to throw out Ameziane’s petition seeking release from Guantanamo Bay and expressed doubts about whether the government had looked hard enough for any evidence favorable to the detainee, directing prosecutors to look further.