Rights Groups Seek to Question Govt. Officials on "Incomplete and Inaccurate" Records of Detainees

January 23, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–Saying that the government’s response to a legal request for basic information on individuals arrested and detained after Sept. 11 is “”incomplete and inaccurate,”” a coalition of rights groups are now seeking further information about the often contradictory information contained in documents provided to them earlier this month.

Further, the groups said in legal papers that “”there are credible indications that the government itself has determined that most of the detainees are not connected to terrorism”” and that the Attorney General no longer has any national security rationale for withholding information about these individuals.

“”The government appears to be engaging in a game of hide-and-seek with information that could prove that the vast majority of people detained after Sept. 11 had no connection to terrorism and may also show that many of these individuals were denied access to counsel,”” said Arthur B. Spitzer, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, one of the lawyers representing the national ACLU and a coalition of 16 other civil rights and human rights groups that filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on December 5, 2001.

For instance, of the 725 detainees listed in heavily redacted papers the groups received on Jan. 11, 2002, 344 are listed separately under the caption ‘INACTIVE CASES,’ “”which would seem to indicate that these individuals have been cleared of any link to terrorism,”” Spitzer said.

In addition, the groups seek to learn just how many of the detainees have been released from custody or cleared for voluntary departure, a status that would also indicate they have been cleared of links to terrorism and thus weaken the government’s argument for secrecy.

The groups also expressed concern that despite a government claim that individuals in detention have been provided access to lawyers, “”there have been credible reports about the severe obstacles that the government has placed in the way of detainees seeking to contact legal counsel.””

It is important to have these questions answered, the groups said, before they reply to the government’s legal bid to dismiss their FOIA lawsuit. The government’s answer to this request is due on January 29.

The case is filed before Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 01-2500, by 16 organizations, including the ACLU, the Center for National Security Studies and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. A full list of organizational plaintiffs can be found in the court papers online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/detainee-foia-complaint.pdf .

In a related matter, the ACLU of New Jersey yesterday announced the filing of a lawsuit against Hudson and Passaic Counties, seeking disclosure of the names of all Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees held in those counties’ jails. The filing was made under the state’s strong public records law, which require that jails make public the names and other information on all those being held. A news release on that action is online at /node/9223

For more information about the ACLU’s fight to stop the war on terrorism’s growing infringement on our civil liberties, go to http://archive.aclu.org/safeandfree/index.html

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