Constitutional and Civil Liberties Groups Ask High Court to Review Justice Department’s Refusal to Release Detainee Information
People For the American Way Foundation and several other constitutional and civil liberties groups today filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review the Justice Department’s claims that it can secretly arrest hundreds of people and withhold their names and other information about them in the nationwide dragnet that occurred after September 11, 2001. Although a district court initially ruled that such information should be released, an appellate court ruled that the withholding of that information was legal. A dissenting judge explained that the court had effectively amended the Freedom of Information Act to allow the secrecy to stand.
“From our first efforts in this case, we have argued that the American people have a right to know what the government is doing in its name,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “The lower court’s ruling in this case grants incredible deference to the Justice Department and cripples the role of oversight in protecting civil rights and constitutional freedoms in America.”
The petition asks the Supreme Court to review the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that the U.S. government can withhold information under the Freedom of Information Act and the First Amendment based on highly questionable criteria. The appeal notes that it is the duty of the courts to closely examine the actions of government — especially in a time of crisis and fear — when that government takes such extraordinary action and seeks to shield those actions from public view.
“Our appeal to the Supreme Court is even more urgent because of the findings of the Justice Department’s inspector general that some of the detainees were subject to abuse by their jailors, were denied counsel and were held for extended periods of time without being charged,” said Neas. “The lower court’s argument that citizens have no right to receive more information on these detentions — including scores of detainees who were never charged with any crime — makes a mockery of the First Amendment and the Freedom of Information Act. We hope that the Supreme Court agrees to hear this case.”
Attorneys for People For the American Way Foundation, the Center for National Security Studies, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Council along with the law firm of Jenner and Block are asking the Court to review the case, on behalf of the broad coalition of organizations that joined the original FOIA request. The case is known as CNSS v. U.S. Department of Justice.