Court Rejects Evidence from Questionable Interrogations

Judges reject evidence in Gitmo cases

Rulings cite improper interrogations.

Chisun Lee

August 16, 2010

Editor’s Note: Most weeks, news articles in The National Law Journal are written and reported by our staff writers. In this issue, however, we’re devoting significant space to a story authored by a reporter from a new contributor: ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit news organization that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. It’s the first time the NLJ has partnered with ProPublica, but we’re in good company: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and several others have featured the high-quality journalism produced by the ProPublica team. For more information about ProPublica or to read other investigative articles produced by its reporters, please visit www.propublica.org.

The government’s case for keeping the Guantánamo Bay prisoner locked away seemed airtight. He had confessed to overseeing the distribution of supplies to al-Queda fighters battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan, even describing the routes where pack mules hauled the packages.

But a federal judge rejected Fouad Mahmoud Al Rabiah’s confessions, concluding that he had concocted them under intense coercion. Even statements that the government insisted Al Rabiah had Wmade under noncoercive, or “clean,” questioning were tainted, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled, and she ordered that Al Rabiah be released.

The government has lost eight of 15 cases in which Guantánamo inmates have said they or witnesses against them were forcibly interrogated, according to ProPublica’s review of 31 published decisions that resolve lawsuits filed by 52 captives who said they’ve been wrongfully detained. Because some of the judges’ opinions are heavily redacted, it’s impossible to be sure there aren’t more cases in which the government offered interrogation evidence collected under questionable circumstances. More than 50 such lawsuits are still pending, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court gave Guantánamo inmates the green light to challenge their detention in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

There are a number of worthwhile points here (as I see it):

  1. The judge held that even the “clean” interrogations produced tainted evidence.
  2. The government has, as nearly as can be known given the cases that have parts of the decisions redacted, lost 8 of 15 cases that alleged the accused or a witness had been improperly interrogated.
  3. There appear to be only 31 published decisions resolving lawsuits filed by 52 people who say they have been wrongfully held.  Does that seem to be a ridiculously low number considering how long it has been since the commissions were established?  I know civilian courts move glacially sometimes but when the key players are in the military I would expect a number of courts could be established and operate simultaneously producing a much higher number of cases handled.
  4. You should consider reading more from ProPublica.
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