ACLU Joins in FOIA Request for Information On Detainees, Says Government Has Refused to Answer Previous Inquiries

October 29, 2001

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

WASHINGTON -- Saying it felt compelled by the government's refusal to answer its previous inquiries, the American Civil Liberties Union today joined with a coalition of civil liberties, human rights and electronic privacy organizations in filing a Freedom of Information Act request for information about the individuals arrested or detained since September 11. 

"We have been deeply disappointed with the government's refusal to respond to our previous inquiries and to release information that would assure the American public that this crucial investigation is being conducted with the basic protections guaranteed by our laws," said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU's Washington National Office. "We therefore felt compelled to join today in filing this important request for information under the Freedom of Information Act." 

On October 17, the ACLU wrote to Attorney General Ashcroft, saying that it was troubled by reports that some detainees have been impeded in their ability to contact lawyers and their families. In that letter - and in a subsequent meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller -- the ACLU asked for the kind of details requested in today's FOIA filing, including the information about: 

  • Those arrested or detained, the circumstances of their detention or arrest and any charges brought against them. 
  • Any lawyers representing any of the detainees. 
  • Any courts that have been asked to enter orders sealing any proceedings.

The ACLU said it recognized that some aspects of this important investigation are necessarily and appropriately confidential. "But we also believe," Nojeim said, "that specific information can and should be released to assure the American public that the government's investigation is both thorough and fair." 

Nojeim said the ACLU is also deeply troubled by Attorney General Ashcroft's recent decision to limit disclosures under FOIA requests whenever there is a legal basis for doing so. Ashcroft's position runs counter to that of the Clinton Administration, which promoted disclosure under FOIA unless it was "reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would be harmful." 

"In our democratic society, the government must resist the urge to classify as secret and to deny appropriate requests for information," Nojeim said. 

The text of the FOIA request can be found online at:
/cpredirect/14398

The ACLU's letter to Attorney General Ashcroft can be found at:
/cpredirect/14410

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