NEW YORK — A U.S. government lawyer argued on Tuesday that even just confirming or denying that the CIA has records about a January raid in Yemen would reveal intelligence secrets.
The raid resulted in the death of a U.S. Navy sailor and Yemeni civilians. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in May seeking documents about the operation from the CIA and the departments of Defense, Justice and State.
Every agency except the CIA agreed to search for records, but the CIA has refused to confirm or deny that it has such records. The ACLU filed a motion in October asking a federal judge to order the CIA to produce documents related to the raid.
Lawyers for the ACLU say the CIA’s involvement in the raid is no secret, since then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a Feb. 2 news conference that CIA Director Mike Pompeo was at the dinner at which the operation was approved.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Tinio suggested on Tuesday that Pompeo’s presence at the dinner doesn’t mean the CIA was involved in the raid.
“He has different hats and different roles,” she said.
Judge Paul Engelmayer asked Tinio, “So what else was he doing at the meeting?”
Tinio responded, “He could have been there to discuss other agenda items.”
The judge said he would rule later on whether the CIA will be compelled to search for documents.
Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens died of wounds sustained during the Jan. 28 raid. The Navy SEAL, who was 36 years old and was from Peoria, Illinois, was the first known U.S. military combat casualty since President Donald Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20. Several other U.S. service members were injured in the mission.
The ACLU is seeking more information because of conflicting accounts that emerged after the raid. It said the military has claimed between four and 12 civilians were killed, while others, including a human rights organization and independent journalists, say as many as 25 died. The raid also resulted in the deaths of more than a half-dozen militant suspects.