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Reporters Committee clients sue U.S. State Department over FOIA non-compliance

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  1. Freedom of Information
The U.S. State Department failed to produce records responsive to requests regarding compliance with Leahy Laws.
Image: The U.S. Department of State Building. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Image: The U.S. Department of State Building. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Attorneys for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have filed a lawsuit on behalf of 100Reporters, a nonprofit investigative news organization, and its former journalist Douglas Gillison against the United States Department of State for failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

In December 2017, Gillison — who now reports for Agence France-Presse — and 100Reporters submitted two FOIA requests to the State Department for records related to the implementation of Leahy Laws, which prohibit the State Department from “providing training and other assistance to foreign security services that have committed gross violations of human rights.”

Under the Leahy Laws, the Secretary of State must ensure any entity “designated to receive U.S. training, equipment,” or assistance is vetted by State Department personnel. If credible evidence is found that security forces of a foreign country have committed a violation, they must be denied American assistance.

100Reporters and Gillison’s records requests sought information about these nominating and vetting procedures to inform their reporting on whether the Leahy Laws are being followed. 100Reporters and Gillison have previously reported on apparent violations of the Leahy Laws; in 2016, they uncovered that the United States committed vetting oversights when it provided security training to members of Cambodia’s Royal Gendarmerie involved in human rights abuses.

The first request was submitted on December 15, 2017, and asked for “copies of all guides, manuals, instructions or directions pertaining to the vetting of foreign military and security personnel and/or units” under the Leahy Laws since January 1, 2014. It also asks for all reports on government police training and equipping programs since 2011.

The second request, also submitted on December 15, 2017, asked for all records containing the names and any other identifying information of foreign individuals and/or units vetted by the State Department for U.S. assistance or training from the State Department’s International Vetting and Security Tracking System pertaining to eight specific countries.

The State Department failed to respond to the requests within the time period specified by FOIA, and despite the fact that the two FOIA requests have been pending for over a year, no responsive records had been produced.

In the suit, 100Reporters and Gillison argue the State Department violated FOIA by failing to produce the requested records and ask the court to issue an order compelling the agency to produce the responsive documents.

Read the complaint.

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.

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