Gitmo team seeks ‘black site’ secrets

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — Attorneys for the accused 9/11 co-conspirators are telling lawmakers they may demand access to classified information on the CIA’s “black sites.”

In a yet-to-be-released motion by James Connell, the lead attorney for Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, the defense team asks U.S. military prosecutors to hand over details of his interrogations at the secret CIA sites to lawmakers and staff who have classified security clearances, such as members of the Defense and Intelligence committees.

The attorneys think that move could pave the way for releasing parts of a controversial Senate report that contains allegations of torture by U.S. officials, potentially against detainees like Ali. 

“We have been in contact with [congressional] staff” on the legal motion to disclose the black-site information, Connell told reporters Monday at Guantanamo Bay.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others are pushing to declassify the executive summary, findings and recommendations of their report on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. 

Most of the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee did not sign on to the panel’s report, saying they disagreed with its findings. Many GOP lawmakers argue the Bush administration-era interrogation techniques helped track down Osama bin Laden, which Feinstein disputes.

Connell said Tuesday that the pending motion to share classified information on the black sites with Congress could enable the release of the Senate report and  open a direct line between the congressional intelligence panels and defense teams to exchange information on the 9/11 tribunal.

If information in the Senate’s torture report includes details on Ali’s time in CIA custody, that would “dramatically change” the nature of the case, Connell said. 

The defense attorney’s team has repeatedly pressed the military tribunal to admit classified information on the CIA’s controversial rendition and interrogation program, which were run out of the agency’s black sites. 

But military prosecutors are pushing back against the motion, saying Congress “does not have the need to know” the classified details of Ali’s time in the CIA detention centers, according to Connell. 

Guantanamo’s chief prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, told reporters Monday his opposition to the pending motion is not intended to undermine lawmakers’ authority. 

While declining “to litigate in the press,” Martins characterized Connell’s motion as the defense team’s latest attempt to get declassified details of the black sites introduced into the case. 

“Are we really going to let defense counsel decide” what details of the interrogation program are released to Capitol Hill and the public, Martins asked, arguing that power should remain with the White House.

The defense teams claim the government’s case, based on information gained at the black sites, is tainted by the alleged use of torture against Ali, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 suspects taken to the sites.

The CIA’s detention sites, reportedly located in Poland, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and elsewhere, housed high-value detainees including Ali and Mohammed.

Civil rights activists say the “enhanced interrogation” techniques the detainees were subjected to — including sleep deprivation, extreme isolation and waterboarding — were tantamount to torture. 

Connell plans to officially file the motion during the next round of pretrial hearings for Ali and the other 9/11 co-conspirators in Guantanamo Bay. He submitted the motion to military prosecutors and Army military judge Col. James Pohl earlier this month. 

Connell declined to say which congressional offices he had been in contact with about the motion.

A congressional aide said that Feinstein’s committee was approached by a member of Connell’s team on detainee medical and psychological issues, but said the Intelligence panel had not been contacted about a motion at the military tribunal. 

A House Intelligence panel aide said the matter was classified and declined to comment.

Members and staff on the House and Senate Intelligence committees, as well as those on the congressional defense panels who deal with intelligence and counterterrorism issues, would be the ones most likely to view the classified documents Connell wants released.

Connell’s team also filed a series of legal motions during pretrial hearings in January in an attempt to get the U.S. government to discuss the CIA-operated overseas detention centers.

Ali, along with Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, appeared in court for the latest round of pretrial hearings on Tuesday. 

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