Monday, October 22, 2007

We do not torture

On Sept. 11, 2001, an Egyptian national named Abdallah Higazy was staying in a New York City hotel room when the planes hit. Higazy and other guests quickly evacuated the building, and a short time later hotel workers found a device in Higazy's room that enables a person to communicate with airline pilots.

Authorities suspected Higazy was involved in the 9/11 plot and arrested him. So far, so good.

But the FBI got a little crazy and threatened Higazy's family with extradition to an Egyptian torture chamber if he didn't confess. Higazy at first denied any knowledge of the strange device, but he couldn't hold out for long. He finally confessed, thus sparing his wife and children. A despondent, shocked Higazy headed for the bowels of the New York City justice system.

Meanwhile, an airline pilot showed up at Higazy's hotel and asked if anyone had seen the radio that he accidentally left in the hotel room closet.

So the courts free Higazy (Hey guy, sorry about that. No hard feelings, right?), and Higazy lawyers up and sue the hotel and the fascist prick FBI agent that threatened his wife and kids.

Now the story gets real interesting. Steve Bergstein, a legal blogger at Psychsound, was checking federal court decisions one day not long ago and came across a 44-page document on the Higazy case. Then he posted the story on his blog as he ate lunch, cause that's what blogging lawyers do. Then, well, I'll let Steve tell the story:

Then something strange happened: a few minutes after I posted the blog, the opinion vanished from the Court of Appeals website! I had never seen this before, and what made all the more strange was that it involved a coerced confession over 9/11. What the hell was going on?

I let some other legal bloggers know about this, particularly the How Appealing blog and Appellate Law and Practice. They both ran a commentary on the missing opinion. Then someone sent How Appealing a PDF of the decision (probably very few of them were floating around since the opinion was posted for a brief period of time) and How Appealing posted the decision.

Then things got even stranger. The Court of Appeals actually phoned How Appealing to request that he remove the opinion from his website since it contained classified information. The Court said that a revised opinion would come out the next day without the classified information. How Appealing actually refused to remove the opinion. Through it all, hundreds of people came to my legal blog to see my summary of the opinion. It was either my blog or printing out and reading a 44 page epic.

The next day, the Court of Appeals reissued the Higazy opinion. With a redaction. The court simply omitted from the revised decision facts about how the FBI agent extracted the false confession from Higazy. For some reason, this information is classified. Just as the opinion gets interesting, when we are about to learn how an FBI agent named Templeton squeezed the "truth" out of Higazy, the opinion reads at page 7: "This opinion has been redacted because portions of the record are under seal. For the purposes of the summary judgment motion, Templeton did not contest that Higazy's statements were coerced."
Fortunately, the US Court of Appeals for Manhattan ruled for Higazy, so his suit can proceed.

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