A federal judge is apparently fed up with the stonewalling from the Pentagon and the Department of Justice in a Freedom of Information Act case seeking video recordings of forced cell extractions at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Politico reports:
U.S. District Court Judge John Bates’s unusual order came Wednesday in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by families of Kuwaiti prisoners being held at the U.S. military-run prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. Bates said the Pentagon, which is represented in the case by the Justice Department, had failed to offer detailed enough explanations to sustain the government’s position that the videos are exempt from disclosure under the law.
Bates suggested he’d lost patience with the government in the case, noting that he’d given the Defense Department three chances to explain its position but that officials repeatedly offered “inconsistent and confusing” explanations.
“The Court already allowed the Department a ‘last chance’ to supplement its declarations,” Bates wrote in a 12-page opinion posted here. “Attempts by the Department to ‘correct’ or supplement its prior submissions have resulted in further obfuscation….The written submissions provided by the Department simply do not allow the Court meaningfully to assess whether the claimed exemptions actually apply.”
Bates said he was particularly puzzled by the Pentagon’s assertion that in 45 videotapes of so-called “forced cell extractions” it could not segregate out images of the detainees from images depicting guards and other base personnel. “The Court finds it necessary to test those assertions by viewing a representative sampling of the videos themselves,” the judge wrote, ordering the Defense Department to fork over three of the videos to him by June 11.
It’s refreshing to hear a federal judge not just taking the government’s word on such a matter. This doesn’t mean the video will be turned over to the plaintiffs; the judge intends to look at the evidence in camera (in his chambers) to determine whether there is any legitimate reason they should not be turned over. Judge Bates was appointed by George W. Bush and was one of Ken Starr’s deputies in his investigation of Bill Clinton.