WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a Guantanamo Bay detainee for subpoenaing two former CIA contractors involved with his detention at a European “black site,” citing concerns the move would have compromised national security.
Abu Zubaydah, who has been held at Guantanamo since 2006wanted to subpoena the former CIA contractors who developed the program of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other techniques used by President George W. Bush’s administration in overseas prisons – or black sites – following the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Biden administration said the information Zubaydah sought would reveal secrets and the government invoked the state secrets privilege to quash that evidence.
“The government argues that the privilege should apply because Zubaydah’s discovery request could force former CIA contractors to confirm the location of the detention site and that confirmation would itself significantly harm national security interests,” Associate Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court. “In our view, the government has provided sufficient support for its claim of harm to warrant application of the privilege.”
Experts saw Zubaydah’s appeal as having potentially broader implications for when and how the government may assert the state secrets privilege to keep evidence out of court or shut down a case entirely. An appeals court in California ordered that any sensitive details be separated from other information that could be released but the Supreme Court reversed that decision.
Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a dissent that was joined by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In it, Gorsuch asserted there was little left in the way of secrets to protect.
“There comes a point where we should not be ignorant as judges of what we know to be true as citizens,” Gorsuch wrote. “The events in question took place two decades ago. They have long been declassified. Official reports have been published, books written, and movies made about them. Still, the government seeks to have this suit dismissed on the ground it implies a state secret .”
The decision “may shield the government from some further modest measure of embarrassment,” Gorsuch continued. “But respectfully, we should not pretend it will safeguard any secret.”
Zubaydah was picked up by Pakistani authorities working with the CIA in 2002, suspected of being a high-level member of al-Qaida, the terrorist group behind the attacks. A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014 found the CIA “significantly overstated” Zubaydah’s role in al-Qaida.
Zubaydah filed a criminal complaint in Poland in 2010, seeking to hold officials responsible for their role in his detention. His request for the subpoenas is tied to that case and his effort to establish the details of the facility – precisely the kind of information that the US government says would undermine national security.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism