PFAW Foundation and Allies Claim Victory In Suit Against Justice Department Over Refusal to Release Detainee Information

Judge Orders Department of Justice to Release Identities of Detainees and Their Attorneys

Granting the American people a victory over the secrecy of the Department of Justice, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler today ordered the DOJ to release the names of the detainees caught up in an anti-terrorism dragnet following the events of last September. The Freedom of Information Act suit was filed by 23 civil rights and civil liberties organizations, including PFAWF, the Center for National Security Studies, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in December 2001. The Department of Justice had responded to an earlier FOIA request with fragmentary, inadequate information, prompting the suit. PFAWF is co-plaintiff and co-counsel on the suit.

"We’re extremely pleased with the decision," said Mincberg. "It requires the disclosure of information the Justice Department has held for far too long."

"The American people have a right to know what the government is doing in their name," said People For the American Way Foundation Legal Director Elliot Mincberg. "There is no doubt that the investigations following September 11th were critical to national security. However, by sweeping an unknown number of people into open-ended detentions without releasing so much as their names, the government minimizes the role of oversight in protecting rights in America."

Judge Kessler's order requires the Department of Justice to release the identities of the detainees with two exceptions: If a court order exists prohibiting the release of the name, or if the detainee signs a statement indicating a wish to withhold his or her name. The order also requires the Department of Justice to release the names of the attorneys representing the detainees. The order upholds the authority of the Department of Justice to withhold the dates and places of arrest and detention.

"Our victory today demonstrates that the government cannot casually detain hundreds of people — often on routine immigration violations or as material witnesses — while keeping the American people in the dark about the detentions," said Mincberg.

The court order obliges the Justice Department to produce the names within fifteen days. The order also terms the Justice Department's attempt to search for documents concerning their disclosure policy as "inadequate." The judge ordered the DOJ to conduct a new search for documents within 30 days in response to plaintiffs' FOIA request.

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