A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., issued a preliminary order on Tuesday directing the Bush administration to preserve any evidence that might show that a former Baltimore resident was tortured during his three years in secret CIA detention.
The order, by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, gave the government until Dec. 20 to respond to a court filing last week that accused the CIA of torturing Majid Khan, 27.
Khan is among 15 high-value detainees who once were held by the CIA but are now in military custody at the prison camp for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Khan's lawyers requested the court action last week, after CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged that the agency had destroyed videotapes of the interrogations of two other Guantanamo detainees who, like Khan, had spent years in secret CIA custody.
Khan, who was a legal U.S. resident and graduated from a suburban Baltimore high school, hasn't been charged with a crime. Pentagon officials claim that he was assigned by the reputed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to research "the poisoning of U.S. water reservoirs and the possibility of blowing up gas stations.''
Of the 15 captives formerly held by the CIA, only Khan has been allowed to see his attorneys.
Based on the meetings, his attorneys claimed in a 25-page motion that there was ample proof that their client had been tortured, and they asked the appeals court to order that evidence be preserved. Under the Military Commissions Act that Congress passed last year, the Washington appeals court is the only civilian court with jurisdiction to hear detainee issues.
It's impossible to verify the attorneys' claims independently. Intelligence officers blacked out major portions of their filing before it was released publicly.
In its order, the appeals court directed Defense Secretary Robert Gates to "take all measures necessary to preserve the material described in the motion for preservation of torture evidence pending the remainder of briefing on that motion and further order of the court.''
The judges issuing the order were Judith W. Rogers, Merrick B. Garland and Thomas B. Griffith. Rogers and Garland were appointed to the court by President Clinton. Griffith was appointed by the current President Bush.
(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald.)