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Profile: Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe
Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe was a participant or observer in the following events:
Abdallah Higazy, an Egyptian national who falsely confessed to owning a suspicious airline transceiver after the 9/11 attacks because the FBI threatened to have his family tortured (see December 17, 2001), December 27, 2001, and January 11-16, 2002), has his lawsuit against the FBI reinstated by a US appeals court. The majority opinion finds, “An officer in [FBI agent Michael] Templeton’s shoes would have understood that the confession he allegedly coerced from Higazy would have been used in a criminal case against Higazy and that his actions therefore violated Higazy’s Constitutional right to be free from compelled self-incrimination.” [New York Sun, 10/18/2007]
Decision Issued and Withdrawn - Interestingly, the appeals court posts its full opinion on the case, then within minutes withdraws that opinion and issues another one, with an identical conclusion but with much of the details of Higazy’s allegations redacted. The new ruling reads: “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.” But the initial opinion has already been downloaded by dozens of legal observers and bloggers, and the evidence redacted by the court is in the public view.
"People Don't Do that Voluntarily" - Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen writes, “The fresh details about his interrogation in December 2001 illustrate how an innocent man can be persuaded to confess to a crime that he did not commit, and the lengths to which the FBI was willing to go in its terrorism-related investigations after the Sept. 11 attacks.” A Justice Department spokesman says that although it does not concede that Higazy’s allegations are true, it has agreed to proceed under the assumption that they are true in order to argue the case. The appellate court does not rule on the veracity of Higazy’s story, but instead concludes that Templeton lacks the “qualified immunity” that would shield him from a civil suit.
Redacted Information - Appellate court clerk Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe says that the original Higazy ruling contained information that should have been sealed from the outset. The decision to seal the information was the court’s, she says, and not the Justice Department’s or the FBI. She says that the decision to seal the information about Templeton’s coercion, and Higazy’s fears of the Egyptian intelligence service, was made out of concern for the safety of Higazy and his family. “Prior to the world of the Internet, a decision would be issued and then withdrawn without any consequences of any moment,” Wolfe says. “Now if that happens it raises the specter of interference or some nefarious intent at work, which is not the case.” Appellate lawyer Stephen Bergstein says that the redacted information “was more embarrassing than worthy of secrecy.” He continues: “Had they left it in, a lot of people probably wouldn’t have noticed. With the Internet, nothing ever goes away.” [Howard Bashman, 10/18/2007; New York Times, 10/20/2007; Washington Post, 10/25/2007]
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