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CIA Interrogations Have
Their Day in Court

Al-Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Ghailani provided a test case for CIA interrogations. The interrogations passed.


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Marc A. Thiessen

In February, we wrote in the Wall Street Journal about a classified brief filed in federal court in which the Obama Justice Department argued for the importance and efficacy of the CIA interrogation program. Now a federal judge has reviewed the evidence and agreed.

On Dec. 18, 2009, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, made the secret filing in response to a motion by Ahmed Ghailani, an al-Qaeda terrorist facing charges for his role in the U.S.-embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Ghailani argued that those charges should be dropped because lengthy CIA interrogations denied him his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

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In his response, Bharara explained that “the defendant was . . . a rare find, and his then-recent interactions with top-level al-Qaeda terrorists made him a potentially rich source of information that was both urgent and crucial to our nation’s war efforts.” Bharara went on to say that “when the United States took custody of the defendant . . . and it justifiably believed that he had actionable intelligence that could be used to save lives, it reasonably opted to treat him initially as an intelligence asset.” And it turned out that “the defendant . . . did in fact have actionable intelligence about al Qaeda.” The “information supplied by the defendant had important real-world effects,” and he provided “crucial, real-time intelligence about senior al-Qaeda leaders and al-Qaeda plots.” Bharara concluded: “The results of the CIA’s efforts show that the defendant’s value as an intelligence source [was] not just speculative.” Thus, “the interest in national security plainly justified holding the defendant in this case as an enemy combatant [and] interrogating him . . . even if that meant delaying his criminal trial.”

Earlier this month, the federal judge presiding over the case, Lewis A. Kaplan, affirmed these conclusions by the Obama Justice Department. His ruling included a classified supplement describing Ghailani’s interrogation and the results it produced. But in his unclassified ruling, Judge Kaplan wrote: “Suffice it to say here that, on the record before the Court and as further explained in the Supplement, the CIA Program was effective in obtaining useful intelligence from Ghailani throughout his time in CIA custody.”

Kaplan went on: “The government has offered evidence that Ghailani continued to be of intelligence value throughout his time in CIA custody. Ghailani’s counsel have had access to extensive classified materials related to his interrogation, yet they have pointed to no evidence to the contrary. As discussed in the Supplement, the Court concludes that the government’s evidence is persuasive.”



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