Press release

Federal Court Orders U.S. Intelligence Agencies to Explain Withholding of Khashoggi Tape and Report

SDNY Judgment on OSJI v CIA, et al. Download the 29-page document. Pages, 308.6 Kb, PDF Download
December 08, 2020
Office of Communications
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NEW YORK—Today, a federal district court in New York ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to acknowledge and explain their withholding of the tape recording the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as the CIA’s report on the murder. The court found that official acknowledgements—including President Trump saying, “we have the tape”—prevented the government from refusing to acknowledge that it is withholding these records and to explain the legal basis for withholding them from the public.

Judge Engelmayer, a federal district court judge in the Southern District of New York, rejected the government’s withholding of the tape and the CIA’s written report under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The court ordered the agencies to produce, within two weeks, a Vaughn index for the two records. A Vaughn index is a government declaration that identifies the records being withheld and the basis under FOIA for withholding them.

The burden is now on the Trump administration to acknowledge that it is withholding the tape and the CIA report, and to explain why it is withholding these records from the public. 

The judgment is the outcome of a lawsuit previously filed by the Justice Initiative and currently pending in New York federal court against the CIA, ODNI, and the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, challenging the agencies’ failure to disclose records relating to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

In the lawsuit, the Justice Initiative argued that disclosure of the records, including the tape, is essential “for a public evaluation of the federal government’s efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for Khashoggi’s killing.” It also asserts, “the American public has a right to know what its government is doing to uphold human rights and the rule of law” in the context of the murder.

“Today’s court order is a crucial victory in addressing the Trump administration’s shameful cover-up of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. For more than two years, the administration has shielded the Saudi Crown Prince and other officials from accountability and withheld information from the public about who is responsible for the murder. The Court’s judgment is a vital step towards ending impunity for the murder,” said Amrit Singh, lead lawyer for the Open Society Justice Initiative in the case.

The Open Society Justice Initiative is represented before the court by Amrit Singh and James A. Goldston, together with Debevoise & Plimpton, a leading international law firm, with offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The Debevoise team is led by Catherine Amirfar and Ashika Singh.

Documents released in litigation thus far can be found on the Open Society Foundations’ Document Cloud.

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