WASHINGTON (AA) – The Supreme Court rejected Thursday a plea from a Guantanamo Bay detainee to learn more about his torture through two former CIA contractors.
In a 6-3 vote, the top court upheld the federal government’s claim of “state secrets” privilege in Abu Zubaydah’s case, allowing the secrecy claim even though much of the information is already public.
“We agree with the Government that sometimes information that has entered the public domain may nonetheless fall within the scope of the state secrets privilege,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote on behalf of the majority.
“The Government here has provided a reasonable explanation of why Mitchell and Jessen’s confirmation or denial of the information Zubaydah seeks could significantly harm national security interests, even if that information has already been made public through unofficial sources,” Breyer added.
He was referring to contractors James Mitchell and John Jessen who are credited with creating the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, which has been widely criticized as torture at home and abroad.
Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi national who was detained in Pakistan about two decades ago, lost his left eye and was waterboarded more than 80 times within a month, according to a 2014 report from the Senate Intelligence Committee.
He sought to have Mitchell and Jessen subpoenaed as part of his efforts to hold accountable Polish officials Abu Zubaydah’s legal team believes were complicit in his torture.
Abu Zubaydah is among several detainees widely believed to have been detained and tortured at a CIA “blacksite” in Poland.
Breyer wrote that it “could significantly harm national security” if Mitchell and Jessen were ordered to testify “even if that information has already been made public through unofficial sources.”
The testimony “would be tantamount to a disclosure from the CIA itself,” he said.
“For these reasons, we conclude that in this case the state secrets privilege applies to the existence (or nonexistence) of a CIA facility in Poland,” he added.
Writing in dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch on behalf of himself and Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, plainly rebuffed the majority opinion.
“There comes a point where we should not be ignorant as judges of what we know to be true as citizens,” wrote Gorsuch. “This case takes us well past that point.”
“Ending this suit may shield the government from some further modest measure of embarrassment. But respectfully, we should not pretend it will safeguard any secret,” he added.
Abu Zubaydah remains detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.