In First Lawsuit Filed Regarding Mass Detentions, Civil Liberties Groups Demand Release of Essential Information Under FOIA

December 5, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Citing the government’s continuing refusal to adequately respond to previous inquiries, a group of civil liberties, civil rights and human rights organizations today filed the first lawsuit requesting the disclosure of basic information about those individuals arrested and detained since September 11.

“The Justice Department consistently refuses to provide the information necessary to guarantee the American public that those jailed since September 11 are being accorded the constitutional protections guaranteed to all people in America by the Bill of Rights,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Since we first asked for this information, there is mounting evidence that secrecy is being invoked to shield serious violations of individual rights and not for legitimate investigative purposes,” said Kate Martin, Director of the Center for National Security Studies. “Instead of the Attorney General simply announcing that they are respecting the Constitution, we need the evidence that will show whether that is true.”

David Sobel, General Counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said, “this case involves a matter of extraordinary public interest and presents one of the strongest rationales for expeditious disclosure ever presented to the federal courts.”

The action was filed today in federal district court here under the Freedom of Information Act by 16 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for National Security Studies and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Also joining in the filing of the lawsuit are the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Council on American Islamic Relations, Human Rights Watch and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. A full list of organizational plaintiffs can be found in the court papers at .

On October 29, the plaintiff organizations requested disclosure of detainee information under the Freedom of Information Act to the Justice Department. This letter requested the release of, among other things, the identity of the detainees, where they are being held, the names of their lawyers, which courts are involved, how long the detainees have been held and the nature of any charges filed against them.

In late November, the Justice Department released partial and fragmentary information about the detainees but, for the most part, fell far short of satisfying the FOIA request.

The groups said they recognized that some aspects of the investigation must necessarily be kept confidential. The lawsuit, however, seeks only essential information that would, in no way, compromise the effectiveness or integrity of the investigation.

“It is impossible for the public to assess whether or not the government investigation into the crimes of September 11 has been reasonable and effective if the government withholds all the basic information about what it has been doing,” said Hussein Ibish, Communications Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “Democratic government requires that citizens know what the government is doing in their name.”

The papers filed in the federal court can be found at:

ACLU’s Legal Director Steve Shapiro’s statement can be found at:

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