NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NEW YORK · Freedom of Information · Jan. 24, 2006
Guantanamo prisoner names must be released
Jan. 24, 2006 · The U.S. must release the names and nationalities of more than 500 detainees held by the U.S. at the Guantanamo Bay prison and suspected of being “enemy combatants,”a federal judge ordered Monday, indicating his doubt about the legitimacy of the government’s invasion-of-privacy arguments.
Just days after ruling that detainees had no “reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to the identifying information they provided” in military tribunals, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered release of that information. “[I]t is hard to escape the inference that the Government’s entire [privacy] argument before this Court is a cover for other concerns, such as the Government’s desire, only recently modified by the courts, to keep the detainees incommunicado with the outside world,” Rakoff wrote.
The Associated Press sued the Defense Department for the information in April 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act after the government refused to release identifying information from the detainees’ 2004 military tribunals. The court’s previous rulings — rejecting the use of the FOI Act’s Exemption 6, the privacy exemption, and the argument that releasing this information would violate the prisoners’ privacy or subject them to retaliatory action by terrorist groups — show Rakoff’s commitment to the public’s right to know, said AP attorney David A. Schulz. “The judge has recognized that this is an effort by the DoD to stonewall the public from knowledge and oversight — it’s part of a bigger picture.”
Schulz expects the Defense Department to appeal the decision, in which case, Rakoff may stay the release of information pending the outcome of the appeal. “This is definitely a favorable outcome, but the fight’s not over yet,” Schulz said.
In the Jan. 9 ruling rejecting the blanket privacy argument, the court had offered the government an opportunity to make a case-by-case showing of a privacy violation for each detainee, but the government said it would not attempt to make those arguments, leading to Rakoff’s order for release. The government has until Wednesday to appeal.
Rakoff, noting AP’s argument that disclosing the information is of great public benefit, discussed the importance of the information in AP’s reporting on the tribunal actions and treatment of the Muslim detainees versus the non-Muslim detainees. “In these and a dozen other respects, the redacted information will likely prove useful to the Associated Press in determining how the tribunals were really operating — a consideration that goes to the heart of FOIA’s purpose,” he wrote.
“He has clearly supported the AP’s position that the information withheld is information the public is entitled to know,” Schulz said.
(Associated Press v. Dep’t of Defense; Media counsel: David A. Schulz, Levine Sullivan Koch and Schulz, New York) — CZ