NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · SECOND CIRCUIT · Freedom of Information · March 9, 2007
Lindh’s application for a reduced sentence not releasable
March 9, 2007 · A request for a reduced sentence submitted to the Justice Department’s pardon attorney in 2004 by John Walker Lindh is not subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act because it would intrude on Lindh’s privacy rights, a federal judge has ruled.
Judge Loretta A. Preska in New York ruled Wednesday that the public interest in viewing the application did not outweigh Lindh’s privacy interests because the appeal was not premised in any way on government misconduct.
Lindh is the American citizen who pleaded guilty in 2002 to aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the public to have an interest only in those documents that “contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations of activities of the government,” Preska noted in her opinion.
Preska’s ruling relied upon the declaration of a government employee who read Lindh’s application and stated that it was not premised on any government misconduct.
“None of [the] asserted reasons have anything to do with any alleged Government misconduct, either in relation to Lindh or to anyone or anything else, and do not reveal what the government is up to,” the declaration said.
The lawsuit was brought by The Associated Press, which sued last year after the Justice Department refused a FOIA request for the documents Lindh submitted as part of his pardon application.
The AP had argued that the documents would shed light on government activities. The AP further pointed out that Lindh’s request was an official document “submitted to the government to request official action,” but Preska was not persuaded.
The court also rejected the argument that the documents should be released because there was significant evidence surrounding the mistreatment by the U.S. government of prisoners, including Lindh, who were in captured in Afghanistan.
Preska again relied on the assertion of the government official who had read the document that the application did not concern government misconduct in any way.
During his prosecution in 2002, Lindh claimed he had been tortured by U.S. military personnel. He agreed to drop those claims when he pleaded guilty to two counts of serving in the Taliban and carrying weapons, for which he is now serving a 20-year prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
(The Associated Press v. Dep’t of Justice; Media Counsel: David A. Schulz, Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP, New York) — NW