No Easy Answers

Friday, July 06, 2007

Government Opposition to Abraham Declaration

H/T to ScotusBlog


Commentary: Fallout from Boumediene order begins.

The Abraham Declaration can be obtained from the Al Odah Reply brief, linked from Final push for rehearing for detainees (June 22).

OCR Job. Some spelling correction undertaken. Typos are presumptively mine.

                              [ARGUMENTS HELD ON MAY 15, 2007]

                           IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
                            FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

HAJI BISMULLAH, et al.,                )
Petitioners,                           )
v.                                     )    No. 06-1197
ROBERT M. GATES, Secretary of Defense  )
Respondent.                            )
HUZAIFA PARHAT, et al.                 )
Petitioners,                           )
v.                                     )    No. 06-1397
ROBERT M. GATES, Secretary of Defense, )
Respondent.                            )


     The government opposes petitioners' motion to file the declaration of Stephen
Abraham, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve. First, the declaration - which
addresses the conduct of CSRT proceedings in only a handful of unnamed cases - is
not relevant to these cases. Second, even assuming the statements in the Abraham
declaration to be true and relevant, the declaration lends no support to petitioners'
request to depose Admiral McGarrah or to petitioners' claim that CSRT procedures
were violated.

     1. First, while petitioners' counsel attempt to apply and attribute the assertions
in the Abraham declaration to CSRTs across-the-board, in fact, the assertions in the
declaration address only limited aspects of the CSRT process with respect to only a

few unspecified petitioners. See, e.g., Abraham Decl. ¶ 4 (describing one CSRT);
id. ¶ 13 (describing "one" interaction relating to "a review of information" obtained
from other agencies); id. ¶ 20 (acknowledging that he was not "personally involved"
in assigning CSRT panels and it "was not apparent to me how assignments to CSRT
panels were made"). Importantly, Abraham's declaration does not indicate that he
was involved in the CSRT process with respect to any of the petitioners in Bismullah
or Parhat. It is therefore not relevant to whether the procedures were followed in
these cases and does not lend support to petitioners' motions for depositions or

     As we have explained in our previous pleadings, there is a strong
"presum[ption] that public officials have 'properly discharged their official duties"'
that applies in these circumstances and precludes discovery. Bracy v. Gramley, 520
u.s. 899, 908-909 (1997). This presumption can be overcome only by identifying
infirmities in a petitioner's own case and not in other cases. That is true even in the
habeas context involving United States citizens. Ibid. (to establish "good cause" for
discovery in habeas proceeding alleging judicial bias, petitioner must "point[] not
only to" bias "in other cases, but also to additional evidence ' ' ' that [the judge] was
actually biased in petitioner's OWN case"); see United States v. Gale, 314 F.3d l, 6
(D.C. Cir. 2003) (no discovery in case to investigate alleged Brady violation that
prosecution had not turned over material relating to expert witness who had been


convicted of perjury in another case because there was "no serious claim of perjury
in Gale's trial"). A fortiori, the presumption of good faith precluding discovery
applies in the context of this Court's limited review under the Detainee Treatment Act
of the military's enemy combatant determinations made in an ongoing war.
Petitioners do not have constitutional rights, and even if they did have such rights,
they are entitled to at most the procedures spelled out in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S.
507, 538 (2006) (plurality op.).

     Such procedures do not include broad discovery based solely on the allegations
that mistakes were made in other detainees' cases. Indeed, in Hamdi, the Supreme
Court rejected a much narrower request for government materials - a request made by
the district court for in camera review of particular information relevant to Hamid's
own case. Id. at 513-14. The Court concluded that this "quite extensive discovery"
failed to strike "the proper constitutional balance" even when a United States citizen
is detained as an enemy combatant. Id. at 528, 532. The Court recognized that a
"trial-like process" would "unnecessarily and dangerously distract[]" the military
during a time of war "intrude on the sensitive secrets of national defense " and
"result in a futile search for evidence buried under the rubble of war." Id. at 531-32.
Depositions were not even contemplated, yet the Court unequivocally eschewed the
discovery procedures envisioned by the district court "in light of their limited
'probable value' and the burdens they may impose on the military." Id. at 533


(quoting Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 u.s. 319, 335 (1976)); see also id. at 534
(contemplating only that "a knowledgeable affiant" would "summarize" records on
the detainee). Likewise, this Court should reject plaintiffs' discovery requests, as
well as their motion to file the irrelevant Abraham declaration.

     2. In any event, without conceding the truth of the statements in the Abraham
declaration, none of these statements establishes a violation of the CSRT procedures,
much less demonstrates "bad faith or improper behavior," as would be required to
"inquir[e] into the mental processes or' Admiral McGarrah. Citizens to Preserve
Overton Park v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 420 (1971); see Opp. to Mot. for Depo. at 2-4.

     a. First, although the Abraham declaration insinuates that the CSRT process
was improperly slanted, there is absolutely nothing in the declaration to substantiate
this innuendo. To be sure, as the declaration observes, a tribunal determination that
a detainee was no longer an enemy combatant would be "scrutin[ized]" by Admiral
McGarrah. Abraham Decl. ¶ 20. But such scrutiny in no way shows bias or a
violation of the CSRT rules. To the contrary, such review of all CSRT decisions is
required by the CSRT procedures, which specify that the CSRT Director (i.e. , at the
time, Admiral McGarrah) "shall review the Tribunal's decision." CSRT Procedures,
enc. l, é I(8).

     Careful scrutiny of a CSRT's no-longer-an-enemy-combatant determination is
not only consistent with CSRT procedures, but it is critical to national security. See


Hamdi, 542 U.S. at 531 (recognizing "the weighty and sensitive governmental
interests in ensuring that those who have in fact fought with the enemy during a war
do not return to battle against the United States"). Such a decision, once finalized,
is likely to lead to the release of an individual who has previously been determined
to warrant detention as an enemy combatant in one or more rounds of initial
screening.  1 Indeed, despite the best efforts of the Department of Defense, numerous
individuals who have been released have rejoined the battle, putting the lives of
American civilians and soldiers in jeopardy. See S. Rep. No. l 10-90, at 13 (June 26,
2007) (minority views) ("[a]t least 30 detainees who have been released from the
Guantanamo Bay detention facility have since returned to waging war against the
United States and its allies"). If anything, the internal scrutiny of the process
described by Abraham tends to suggest a vital, robust process rather than a process
designed to reach only a preordained result. The actual CSRT results - where 38 of
558 CSRTs resulted in determinations that detainees no longer met the criteria for
designation as enemy combatants - indicate an impartial process designed to
"determine whether each detainee * * * meets the criteria to be designated as an
enemy combatant." CSRT Procedures, enc. l, é B.

1 Thus, when such a determination was made, "the CSRT Director would
notify the intelligence agencies and provide them an opportunity to submit additional
information relating to the detainee or to reconsider any of their prior decisions that
had prevented the Recorder from using their material as Government Evidence at the
CSRT." McGarrah Decl. ¶ 15.


     b. Second, Abraham's criticisms of the intelligence agencies and the process
for obtaining information from them reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how
the CSRT process is supposed to work. Abraham complains about not having
unfettered "access" to other agencies' files and not being able to "see[] all
information" possessed by another agency. Abraham decl. ¶¶ 9, l l, 13 (emphasis
added); see id. ¶ 12 (did not review "all available information"); id. ¶ 11 (did not
review "a complete compilation of information"); id. ¶ 13 (misstating he was "tasked
to review all available materials"); id. ¶ 14 (expecting to be told whether additional
information "existed"); id. ¶ 16 (did not review "all available information").
Similarly, petitioners object that the Recorders did not themselves review all the files
possessed by intelligence agencies. Mot. at 3, 4.

     But nothing in the CSRT procedures remotely requires the Recorder to conduct
a de novo search for the information held by other agencies or to double-check the
work performed by other agencies in responding to requests for relevant information.
Instead, the CSRT procedures explain that the Tribunal may "request [from other
agencies] the production of such reasonably available information" that "bears on the
issue of whether the detainee" is an enemy combatant. CSRT Procedures, enc. l, é
C(3). Thus, while the Tribunal may request relevant information from another
government agency, the Recorder does not search through that agency's files for
relevant, reasonably available materials - instead, the intelligence agency conducts


the search for responsive materials. 2

     In the circumstances described by Admiral McGarrah and unfairly criticized
by Abraham, intelligence agencies identified potentially relevant, reasonably
available information by conducting "broadly based [searches based] on [detainee]
names and other available identifying information." McGarrah Decl. ¶ 10.b.
Common sense tells us that this is the most reasonable way to locate relevant
materials pertaining to a detainee. In fact, these searches were broader than
necessary because they turned up "voluminous responsive documents, many of which
were found not relevant" to an enemy combatant determination. Ibid. It is a review
of these responsive documents that Abraham describes in his declaration. See
Abraham Decl. ¶ 11 (explaining that he was "permitted to see * * * information * *
* specifically prepared in advance of my visit"); id. ¶ 11 (explaining that he was
"allowed * * * access to * * * prescreened and filtered" information); id. ¶ 12 ("the
information provided to me was all that I would be shown"); id. ¶ 13 (describing

2> Normally, an agency would simply provide documents responsive to a
request for relevant and reasonably available material. See McGarrah Decl. ¶ 10.b.
Even in those instances where the Recorder's team "did not directly obtain"
information from those agencies due to the sensitive nature of the information, the
Recorder's task was not transformed into a requirement to conduct a de novo search
through the agency's files in the first instance; instead, the Recorder's team simply
"review[ed] the organization's information responsive to their request" at a different
location - the offices of the agency. Ibid. The agency - not the Recorder - still was
charged with searching its own files to locate those responsive materials. See CSRT
Procedures, enc. 1, § E(3).


conversation "following a review of information" provided by the agency). In sum,
contrary to Abraham's apparent belief, under the CSRT procedures, once the
intelligence agency had "produc[ed] * * * [the requested] reasonably available
information" that "bears on the issue of whether the detainee" is an enemy combatant
(CSRT Procedures, enc. 1, § C(3)), there is no additional requirement that the
Recorder review "all available information" (Abraham Decl. ¶ 12) to confirm that the
agency has properly responded to the request for information. Ultimately, as the
Abraham declaration itself acknowledges, it is the relevant intelligence agency that
must review its records to identify responsive material. See Abraham Decl. ¶ 16
(acknowledging that the material provided to the Recorder and staff was "left * * *
to the discretion of the organizations providing the information" and what
"information was not included * * * was typically unknown").

     The Abraham declaration also intimates that the CSRT procedures were
violated because, after this review of material provided by an intelligence agency, the
agency would not also provide "a written statement that there was no exculpatory
information." Abraham Decl. ¶ 12; see Mot. at 4 (contending that intelligence
agencies "refused to say whether they had exculpatory information").

     But the CSRT procedures do not require a certification in these circumstances,
and for good reason: it is impossible, or at least extraordinarily burdensome, to certify
that negative. Accordingly, the CSRT procedures required only that agencies come


forward with reasonably available material in their files that was responsive to the
request for information. CSRT Procedures, enc. 1, § E(3). A certification was
required only when this agency search for reasonably available material identified
relevant material that it would not provide in response to a request. CSRT
Procedures, enc. 1, § E(3)(a) ( "[f]or any relevant information not provided in
response to a Tribunal's request, the agency holding the information shall provide
either an acceptable substitute for the information requested or a certification to the
Tribunal that none of the withheld information would support a determination that the
detainee is not an enemy combatant") (emphasis added). Importantly, the Abraham
declaration does not state that any agency advised him that its searches had turned up
reasonably available information that was relevant, but would nonetheless not be
provided for his review. Thus, Abraham has not alleged a violation of the CSRT
procedures in any case, let alone the case at hand.

     Indeed, the declarations together describe a review of material by the CSRT
Recorder that was more comprehensive than what is required by CSRT procedures.
Whereas the rules call for the production for the Recorder's review of only relevant
material in response to information requests (CSRT Procedures, enc. 1, § E(3)),
certain agencies' "searches were broadly based on names and other available
identifying information" and turned up "voluminous responsive documents, many of
which were found not relevant" by the Recorder's staff. McGarrah Decl. ¶ 10.b


(emphasis added). Thus, the Recorder's staff was reviewing the results of broadly
based, over inclusive searches for relevant material in agency files, material that either
supported or tended not to support a detainee's enemy combatant status. Such a
comprehensive search readily satisfies even the obligation of a.criminal prosecutor
under the Due Process Clause in obtaining exculpatory material from other agencies
- where reasonableness is the key in conducting such a search. See United States v.
Brooks, 966 r.2d 1500, 1502 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (in Brady context, "objective" test
employed to determine whether files of other agencies much be searched for
exculpatory material).

     The onerous search that Abraham sought to perform, on the other hand -
whereby he sought access to all agency files even after a reasonable search had been
performed - was unnecessary and unwise. "'[M]ere speculation that a government
file may contain" relevant material is no basis for requiring a search in the Brady
context, where the constitutional rights of U.S. Citizens are at issue. Brooks, 966
F.2d at 1504 ("'[m]ere speculation that a government file may contain Brady
material' was not enough to require an in camera examination" by court); United
States v. Joseph, 996 F.2d 36, 41 (3d Cir. 1993) ("[w]e will not interpret Brady to
require prosecutors to search their unrelated files to exclude the possibility, however
remote, that they contain exculpatory information"); United States v. Merlino, 349
F.3d 144, 154 (3d Cir. 2003) (declining to find Brady violation when prosecution


reviewed 300 tapes in the possession of another agency, found only a small amount
of exculpatory material, then declined to review additional 2000 tapes; explaining
that "[i]t is one thing to require honest searches, reasonable in scope, of unrelated
files for specific identifiable information, but quite another to send prosecutors on
open-ended fishing expeditions"). A fortiori, such speculation would not have
warranted a further search here, where a process was being conducted to determine
whether aliens lacking any constitutional rights are wartime enemy combatants. See
generally Hamdi, supra, p. 3-4.

     c. Finally, the remaining statements presented in the declaration do not reveal
any violation of the CSRT procedures. For example, in several places, the declaration
characterizes information supporting an enemy combatant determination as
"generalized " "outdated " "'generic "' "indirect " "passive " and lacking a "source
of the information." Abraham Decl. ¶¶ 8, 22. Such contentions, of course, can be
reviewed by this Court directly in assessing the Government Evidence in the record
before the CSRT in each particular case, and a declaration making general and
derisive characterizations of the evidence is of no moment in conducting that review.
If the information is inadequate in a particular case, the Court can remand that case
to the agency. In no event would the evidentiary insufficiency justify broad-based
discovery in all DTA cases before this Court.

     The Abraham declaration also states that, in reviewing the "large amounts of


information" they received "information that was gathered was discarded by the case
writer or the Recorder because it was considered to be ambiguous, confusing, or
poorly written". the declaration characterizes such decisions as "arbitrar[y]."
Abraham Decl. ¶ 17. But there is nothing improper or arbitrary about the recorder
sifting through the material produced and declining to present ambiguous, confusing,
or poorly written material to the CSRT. Notably, Abraham does not contend that any
discarded material was favorable to a detainee or even relevant. Presumably, in light
of his other allegations, if Abraham had ever seen evidence favorable to a detainee
being discarded, he would have said so in his declaration. Moreover, Admiral
McGarrah unequivocally declared that when the Recorders and their staff reviewed
the Government Information "all material that might suggest the detainee should not
be designated as an enemy combatant was identified and included in the materials
presented to the CSRT" unless the material was merely duplicative or not relevant to
an asserted basis of a detainee's enemy combatant status. McGarrah Decl. ¶ 13.
Accordingly, even if, in a particular case, some "confusing" information was not
included in the CSRT record, that omitted information would not be helpful to the
detainee because it would either be irrelevant or would tend to show that a detainee
was an enemy combatant.

     Finally, the declaration characterizes the Recorders and their staff as lacking
"significant personal experience in the field of military intelligence." Abraham Decl.


¶ 6. But Abraham's own personal opinion regarding the experience and
qualifications of the Recorders in no way supports a determination of impropriety or
bad faith by the government or even a technical violation of the CSRT procedures.
The CSRT procedures do not require that the Recorder have "military intelligence"
experience. See CSRT Procedures, enc. 2, § A ("Qualifications of the Recorder").
Instead, the focus of the process is on ensuring that the status of the detainee was
given a fresh look by neutral officers not involved in the apprehension, detention, or
interrogation of the detainees. CSRT Procedures, Enc. 1, § C(2) (Recorder shall be
"a commissioned officer" who "shall not have been involved in the apprehension,
detention, interrogation, or previous determination of status of the detainees"); see
Hamdi, 542 U.S. at 537-38 ("properly constituted military tribunal" with a "neutral
decision maker" could satisfy due process requirements, but no mention of a
requirement that tribunal members have military intelligence experience). That
Recorders and staff were not always steeped in detainee-related intelligence matters
does not mean that those individuals could not perform their role in providing a fresh
look at the enemy combatant determination.

     At bottom, Abraham and petitioners' counsel have lost sight of what the
CSRT process is all about. In the middle of a war, in which thousands of Americans
have already lost their lives, the Defense Department for several months dedicated
over two hundred personnel to providing an unprecedented amount of process to


status determinations for aliens held outside this country - process that included
voluminous government-wide searches of unprecedented rigor for information
relevant to these determinations. Even if Abraham were correct that none of his
colleagues was as qualified as he is (a proposition the government continues to deny),
his declaration casts no shadow on the validity of the CSRTs or the legality of
petitioners' detention. This Court should deny petitioners' motion to file the
declaration and should reject the inappropriate discovery that petitioners are seeking.



     For the foregoing reasons, the Court should deny petitioners' motion to file
the Abraham declaration.

Respectfully submitted,

Assistant Attorney General

Deputy Assistant Attorney General

Terrorism Litigation Counsel
(202) 514-3602

(202) 514-1278
Attorney Appellate Staff
Civil Division Room 7268
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.

July 2007


                            CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

I hereby certify that on July 6, 2007, I caused copies of the foregoing
of record by causing copies to be sent by regular mail and by e-mail transmission to:

Jeffery I. Lang
Jennifer R. Cowan
Debevoise & Plimpton
919 Third Avenue
New York, New York 10022

Sabin Willett
Bingham McCutchen LLP
150 Federal Street
Boston, MA 021 10-1726

Susan Baker Manning
2020 K Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20006-1806

August E. Flentje

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


March 2006   April 2006   May 2006   June 2006   July 2006   August 2006   September 2006   October 2006   November 2006   December 2006   January 2007   February 2007   March 2007   April 2007   May 2007   June 2007   July 2007   August 2007   September 2007   November 2007   December 2007   January 2008   February 2008   March 2008   April 2008   May 2008   June 2008   July 2008   August 2008   September 2008   March 2009   April 2009  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?