By Michael Doyle
WASHINGTON: More activists are suing to obtain a massive, secret study of CIA interrogation practices in a fight that could last longer than the study itself.
Overseen by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate intelligence panel, the 6,000-plus page study was three years in the making, as investigators probed how the Central Intelligence Agency imprisoned and harshly questioned suspected terrorists after the 9/11 attacks. So far, the Obama administration has resisted making public the study or its executive summary.
This week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed the second Freedom of Information Act lawsuit intended to pry loose the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence study, as well as the CIA’s response. Judging from history, the dispute will take a long time to resolve. So far, moreover, courts often have assented when the president’s emissaries demand secrecy in the name of national security.
“It’s true that litigation takes longer than if the government voluntarily releases information,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in an interview Wednesday, “but sometimes FOIA litigation is necessary … for informing the public.”
More than 1,000 FOIA lawsuits have been filed against the Justice Department and its sub-agencies since 2001, and an additional 1,000-plus FOIA lawsuits have been filed against the CIA and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security during the same period, according to data compiled by The FOIA Project. The project was established by the nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, based at Syracuse University.
Underscoring what critics say has been an increase in secrecy, there were more FOIA lawsuits filed during the first term of the Obama administration than in the last term of the prior Bush administration, the Syracuse-based project further found. Usually, such suits take a while.
“The courts often defer to government claims of national security,” attorney Jeffrey L. Light, who has filed FOIA lawsuits on behalf of other parties, acknowledged Wednesday, adding that “they’re owed a great deal of deference for those claims.”
The ACLU sued Tuesday in Washington, following up on an earlier Freedom of Information Act request for the Senate intelligence committee reports. The lawsuit was filed the same day the Justice Department formally responded to a similar lawsuit initiated in September by Light on behalf of California-based journalist Jason Leopold.
Leopold’s lawsuit asked for the executive summary, estimated to span about 300 pages, while the ACLU lawsuit asks for the entire three-volume study as well as the CIA’s written response. Both cases have been assigned to the same judge, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg.