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Federal judge orders U.S. response to ACLU’s detainee FOI request

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    News Media Update         NEW YORK         Freedom of Information    

Federal judge orders U.S. response to ACLU’s detainee FOI request

  • Nearly a year after the ACLU first requested documents relating to detainee treatment and casualties at U.S. facilities worldwide, a federal judge from New York ruled Wednesday that various federal agencies must respond to a FOI Act request by the ACLU within one month.

Sep. 22, 2004 — The federal government has one month to respond to a nearly year-old FOI Act request regarding U.S. detention facilities at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib and other U.S. detention facilities worldwide, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein in New York City ruled last week.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed its first Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency on Oct. 7, 2003, seeking information on detainee treatment and casualties at U.S. facilities worldwide.

The agencies did not respond within the 20-day response time called for in the FOI Act and the ACLU, losing hope that the government would respond, filed a lawsuit on July 2, 2004, to force compliance.

The government argued that Judge Hellerstein did not have jurisdiction over the case because it was still in the process of responding “as soon as practicable.” Although Judge Hellerstein noted that FOI Act case law does allow for some divergence from the 20-day response requirement, he ruled that more than 11 months is an unreasonable delay. Judge Hellerstein stressed that the government’s response time obligations under FOI Act remain the same even when it believes that the document in question falls under a disclosure exemption.

Judge Hellerstein ruled, “If the documents are more of an embarrassment than a secret, the public should know of our government’s treatment of individuals captured and held abroad” because “[w]e are a nation that strives to value the dignity of all humanity.”

Judge Hellerstein set Oct. 15, 2004, as the government’s deadline for producing all documents to the ACLU, or to properly assert its exemptions for withheld documents. The judge gave the government special instructions for dealing with classified documents.

(American Civil Liberties Union v. Dep’t of Defense, Media Counsel: Jennifer Ching, Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, Newark, N.J.) RL

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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