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Court Decision Redacted to Obscure FBI Role In Coerced False Confession Is a Non-Story? What's With That?

leah's picture

I'm with Kevin Drum and Jim Henley in their befuddlement that this story, reported over the weekend, has kicked up so little dust.

Kevin brought it to my attention with a short post to that effect, one of the reasons he is invaluable. Others, like Jim, are beginning to pick up on it, and Mr. Henley supplies some fascinating background. With a story like this, the more the merrier; we need to get it noticed by the village, and the name, "Hagazy," as well known as "Hamden."

One reason it hasn't broken big, a small blogger reported it, and yes, reported is the operative word, just like a real journalist. The "small" describes only the probable stats of the blog, "Psychsound," not the blogger, Steve Bergstein, a lawyer with two blogs, both of them involved in this story. The other reason is that the village elders are quite uninterested in pursuing evidence that Bush & co is running one of the most corrupt and unlawful administrations in our history.

In fact, Bergstein, whose other blog, "Wait A Second," tracks and analyzes the civil rights decisions that come out of the the Second Circuit Federal Appeals Court located in Manhattan, became involved in the story itself, by catching while it was happening, an act of censorship being practiced on the written decision itself, a redaction of a large portion in the name of protecting our national security.

Yeah, I suppose that could be said to compute, if you think that every dumb thing any part of your government does, like, for instance, how the FBI got a false confession from a visiting Egyptian, that he was part of the 9/11 conspiracy, who was ultimately proven to be innocent of owning the suspicious device found in the closet of his hotel room, needs to be shielded from scrutiny because otherwise the terrorists will win. Hint: They didn't get the confession with a decoder ring, knowledge of which could allow Al Queda to profit from our technology.


Okay, here's a brief summary of what happened, not meant to allow you to avoid going to read Lawyer Bergstein's narrative, which is better than some screenplays I've read.

Abdallah Higazy, an Egyptian national, whom I assume is a man of some means, was staying at a New York hotel when the Twin Towers were hit on 9/11; along with the rest of the hotel guests, Higazy emptied the hotel as per the request of the staff. A precautionary search of the rooms revealed in the closet of Higazy's room, a device used to communicate with airline pilots. Now, obviously this was suspicious, and it is no wonder that the hotel reported their finding to authorities, and no wonder that the FBI might feel they needed to question Higazy, even vigorously.

The coercion used by those interrogating Higazy isn't anywhere near the worst that we've heard about, but he was isolated, not allowed any representation, and it is clear that the FBI was already convinced that he had to be part of the 9/11 plot, and were ready to use any means to get Higazy to stop denying that the device found in his hotel closet belonged to him, a fact that one would think could have been easily checked, but which there is no indication of any attempt being made to do so.

What finally prompted Higazy's confession was a threat, quite credible considering the nature of Mubarek's Egypt, that Higazy's family would be assumed to be terrorists as well, and that as such they would be on the receiving end of what Mubarek's secret police are well known for - torture. So Higazy spared his family and more or less gave up his own life, by confessing. As Bergstein points out, it is to avoid precisely such unjust proceedings that we don't allow coerced confessions in this country, and I would add, why the Geneva Conventions don't allow interrogators to make threats against family members.

Well, it turns out Hagazy was telling the truth. The device was not his. The prior occupant of Hagazy's hotel room, an airline pilot himself, notified the hotel management that he'd left an instrument in the closet of his hotel room and he'd like to pick it up.

Oops doesn't quite cover it, does it? How hard would it have been to check and what persons might have rented the hotel room before Hagazy arrived, or indeed, if the hotel had a record of any airline pilots having been a guest there?

At least Hagazy was released; remember this was early days in this administration's determination to upend every precept of American and international law in pursuit of some fantasy of presidential power that has little to do with either genuine intelligence gathering or genuine national security.

Hagazy got himself a lawyer, and sued the hotel and the FBI agent who coerced the confession. The appeals court was ruling on whether or not he had standing to sue and could recover damages. They decided yes and yes.

This is where the story really gets interesting.

The decision was forty pages long, too long to print out, so Bergstein started to blog an analysis as he read it. He posted it during lunch, and then, as he explains, a strange thing happened; the decision disappeared from the Circuit Court website.

Bersgstein notified another legal blog, "How Appealing," which then received a PDF copy of the now missing decision and published it. And get this - the Court of Appeals contacted the blog to ask them to remove their copy of the unredacted decision because it contained classified information, which, once removed would allow the opinion to be reposted on the court's website. "How Appealing" did not comply. But the Court of Appeals did.

The official version on the court website is the redacted version.

I'll say no more because you need to go read everything for yourself.

What I think this story needs is a blog swarm, so whether a blogger or a commentator, get going and spread the word to spread the word - those crazy, mixed-up lefty hippies are getting hot and bothered again about the true meaning of national security.

Here are the links:

Bergstein's Psychsound discussion On Psychsound of what happened to both Hagazy and the decision on is here; his original account of the decision itself, his posted to his other blog is here, and look around at his other posts, really good stuff.

Take a look at "How Appealing" here, and the links to Kevin and Jim, who has a lot more links worth looking at, are at the top of this post.

Memeorandum has picked this up, although they seem to have fewer blogs on it than when I last looked, so get going and get other blogs to pick up on Mr. Hagazy's story.

When has avoiding embarrassment for government officials, even if high-up government officials, been a matter of national security?

Let us remind the SCLM that it sure wasn't when a certain Clinton was president, thanks in large measure to the efforts of the village press corps.

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