Interrogation tactics

  • August 16, 2010

    The U.S. government has lost eight out of 15 habeas petition cases in which Guantánamo inmates alleged they or witnesses against them were forcibly interrogated, reports ProPublica, in an analysis jointly published with The National Law Journal.

    The report by the investigative journalism nonprofit assesses the effect of mistreatment allegations on detainees' lawsuits by looking at 31 published decisions, which resolve the claims of 52 captives who alleged they were wrongfully detained. Fifteen of those published decisions were found to contain allegations of mistreatment, ranging from verbal threats to physical abuse labeled as torture, but because large portions of some of the decisions were redacted, the report notes that there may be other cases in which inmates alleged forcible interrogation.

    The judges in these cases rejected government evidence that had been coercively obtained, using forcible interrogations. "Even in the seven cases the government won, the judges didn't endorse aggressive methods," ProPublica reports, noting that in six of those cases, the judge disbelieved the detainees' allegations of mistreatment.

    The report continues:

    The 15 decisions offer the most detailed accounting to date of how information obtained from the Guantánamo inmates through controversial tactics is standing up in court. They come in cases initiated by detainees seeking release via a writ of habeas corpus, not cherry-picked by prosecutors. Criminal law experts say the judges' opinions help explain why the government has decided not to pursue criminal convictions against some detainees. Such evidence would pose even greater problems in criminal trials, for which requirements of proof are more demanding.

    The Obama administration has already said that at least 48 of the remaining 176 prisoners at Guantánamo will be held indefinitely because they're too dangerous to release but can't be prosecuted successfully in military or civilian court. They've said that coercion-tainted evidence is one obstacle.

    The report also notes that the government was successful in only one out of fifteen cases in arguing that the taint of government coercion was eliminated by a subsequent change in location, interrogator or circumstance.

    In all, 53 habeas cases have been decided, of which the government has lost 37, "most because it couldn't produce enough reliable evidence that the men were al-Qaida or Taliban militants," according to the report. More than 50 habeas suits are still pending.

    The report includes two in-depth charts, one documenting "How Judges are Ruling in Cases Where Mistreatment is an Issue" and one containing updated information on all detainees whose lawsuits have been decided by federal judges.