In response to a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The Miami Herald, the Department of Defense was required to for the first time disclose the identify of 46 Guantanamo Bay prisoners detained indefinitely without trial because they are allegedly too dangerous to release but cannot be prosecuted.
Carol Rosenberg, a veteran Guantanamo Bay reporter for The Herald since 2001, filed a FOIA request for the names last December after a government task force report in 2010 classified 48 prisoners as “continued detention” detainees. Two men on the list have since died. According to the report, the prisoners were held at the naval base without a trial because all the evidence pertinent to their cases were "tainted".
In her request, Rosenberg argued that the documents should be released on an accelerated timeline because they were of “widespread public interest” and were related to “possible questions about the government’s integrity.”
According to court documents, the Defense Department refused to grant expedited processing and also failed to respond even after extending FOIA's deadline from 20 to 30 days. The agency claimed that "unusual circumstances" involving a multi-agency confirmation process and geographic distance between the separate departments would delay the request.
Law students from Yale University’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) then drafted an administrative appeal on behalf of Rosenberg in February.
When the department failed again to respond, Rosenberg sued the government in Washington, D.C. District Court on March 15.
The Defense Department handed over the 15-page document on Monday just a few hours after the presiding judge set a deadline for the government to update the court on how the agency was processing The Herald's request.
John Langford, a Yale law student and MFIA member who worked closely with Rosenberg throughout the process, said that though there was a delay, the timeline was much shorter than expected.
“Sometimes FOIA can turn into a fishing expedition where you’re trying to loop in as much as you can because you don’t really know what you’re going to get,” said Langford. “This was not that case. [Rosenberg] came in, said she wanted 48 names and that was very, very useful. It focused the whole process and got things moving quickly.”
Human rights groups have long protested the government’s detention of suspected terrorists. Director of the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First Dixon Osburn said the document’s release comes after the United States has held some prisoners for over a decade.
“It is fundamental to democracy that the public know the identities of the people our nation is depriving of liberty and why they are being detained,” said Osburn said in a statement on Monday. “Revelation is welcome, though long overdue.”
Related Reporters Committee resources:
· Federal Open Government Guide: Expedited processing and fast-tracking your request