United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case, like many brought under the Freedom of Information Act,
triggers a clash between personal and public concerns,
between a family's interest in mourning one of its own
and the Government's interest in protecting sensitive
national-security information. In 2002, Afghan citizen Gul
Rahman died in an overseas detention center at the hands of
the Central Intelligence Agency. Almost two decades later,
the whereabouts of his corpse remains unknown. Plaintiffs
Obaid Ullah -- the representative of Rahman's estate --
and the American Civil Liberties Union now seek this
Court's enforcement of their FOIA request for information
about what happened after his death.
the Government has produced a fair number of documents
detailing its treatment of Rahman, it has withheld others,
relying heavily on FOIA exemptions that protect classified
information from disclosure. While mindful that
“[f]amily members have a personal stake in honoring and
mourning their dead, ” Nat'l Archives &
Records Admin. v. Favish, 541 U.S. 157, 168 (2004), the
Court finds that the Government has carried its burden of
demonstrating the propriety of the relevant exemptions. It
will therefore grant Defendant's Motion for Summary
noted above, this FOIA case arises out of Rahman's death
in 2002. When Rahman, who was allegedly residing in a Refugee
Camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, traveled to Islamabad for a
medical appointment, the CIA took custody of him and
transported him to a facility in an unknown location.
See ECF No. 1 (Complaint), ¶ 2. According to
Plaintiffs, the CIA then “forcibly disappeared Mr.
Rahman and tortured him to death.” Id., ¶
Agency has confirmed that Rahman died in its custody,
releasing various reports that provide detailed information
about his detention, treatment, and death. These materials,
comprising hundreds of pages (albeit in redacted form),
memorialize that Rahman died of hypothermia after being
short-chained to a concrete floor in near-freezing
temperatures. See Office of CIA Inspector General,
Report of Investigation: Death of Detainee (April
27, 2005) at 3; Memorandum from John Brennan, CIA Director,
to Sens. Feinstein & Chambliss, CIA Comments on the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on the
Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program 4, 9
(June 27, 2013). As of this date, the CIA has not officially
informed Rahman's family of his death or returned his
body to them. See Compl., ¶ 7.
primarily to discover the location of Rahman's remains,
Plaintiffs filed a FOIA request on April 18, 2018, for
(1) The United States' (or its agents') disposition
of Mr. Rahman's body after his death in CIA custody in
(2) Any and all documents referencing the location of Mr.
Rahman's body; and
(3) Procedures, protocols, or guidelines to be followed in
the event of a CIA detainee's death while in United
States' custody, including family notification,
investigation and disposition of the body.
ECF No. 17-3 (Declaration of Antoinette B. Shiner), ¶ 6.
After the CIA failed to immediately respond, Plaintiffs
brought this suit in November 2018. See ECF No. 18
(Pl. Opp.) at 2.
31, 2019, the CIA identified 38 responsive documents,
producing 9 of those documents in part while withholding the
remaining 29 in full. See ECF No. 17-2 (Def.
Statement of Facts), ¶ 4. (The CIA later determined that
three of the documents withheld in full were not responsive.
Id.) Defendant justified its withholdings by
invoking FOIA Exemptions 1 (information classified to protect
national security), 3 (information the disclosure of which is
prohibited by another federal law), 5 (privileged
communications), 6 (information that invades another
individual's personal privacy), and 7(C) and (D)
(information that was compiled for law-enforcement purposes
and threatens to disclose personal information or the
identity of a confidential source). See 5 U.S.C.
§ 552(b). The CIA acknowledges that the produced
documents in their current redacted forms do not reveal the
disposition or location of Rahman's body or any official
policy the Agency has adopted with regard to the disposal of
bodies. Frustrated in their pursuit of this specific
information, Plaintiffs then informed Defendant of their
intent to challenge the asserted withholdings. See
ECF No. 15 (Joint Status Report of June 14, 2019) at 1.
countered with a Motion for Summary Judgment, contending that
the agency had fulfilled its search obligations under FOIA
and that any withholdings were justified by the
above-mentioned exemptions. Plaintiffs opposed that Motion,
challenging the CIA's withholdings and its assertion that
none of the redacted information was segregable. The Court
refrained from immediately deciding the Motion, instead
ordering the Government to produce the contested documents
for in camera review. It has since reviewed the
redactions along with Defendant's ...