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Detainee names stay secret to protect 'national security'

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    News Media Update         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Freedom of Information    

Detainee names stay secret to protect ‘national security’

  • The U.S. Supreme Court denied review of a FOI Act case in which the Department of Justice has refused to reveal the names of those it has detained since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Jan. 12, 2004 — The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected an appeal of a bid to obtain the names of the more than 700 people detained by the government following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Court will not hear arguments by the Center for National Security Studies and 20 other public interest groups, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, that the names of those detained should be public under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Kate Martin, CNSS director, said today that the Justice Department has rounded up innocent Arabs and Muslims and is withholding their names to prevent disclosures of its own wrongdoing, The Associated Press reported.

The rejection of the case means the June 17 ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., stands. That court deferred to the Department of Justice’s claim that the law enforcement exemption to the FOI Act applied. The department argued that its “national security” investigation would be compromised if it released the names of people it had taken into custody in connection with the terrorist attacks.

Most of the unidentified detainees apparently have been deported, and only one, Zacarius Moussaoui, has ever been charged in connection with the terrorist attacks. Nonetheless, Attorney General John Ashcroft asked Congress in June for more powers to detain suspects, saying that more than 3,000 “foot soldiers of terror” had already been detained.

The CNSS and the other public interest groups filed a FOI Act request for the records in October 2001. A federal district court ordered the names released, but that decision was reversed in a split decision at the appeals level.

CNSS asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, and 23 media groups joined in a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Court to accept the case. As is usual in decisions to grant or deny review, there were no formal opinions issued with the Supreme Court’s announcement.

(CNSS v. Department of Justice; Counsel: Kate Martin, Washington, D.C.; Media amicus counsel: Laura Handman, Washington, D.C.) RD

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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