Judge: U.S. must release names of most 9/11 detainees
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge has ordered the government to reveal within 15 days the names of people detained in the investigation of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The order by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler allows only two exceptions: if the detainee is a material witness to a terror investigation and if the person being held does not want to be identified.
Kessler also ordered that the names of the detainee's attorneys be released, but she denied requests for release of the dates and locations of arrests and detentions, and any dates of release.
At the time of the court filing in October 2001, the government had detained 751 people on immigration violations; none of their names has been made public, although 677 of them have been released or deported.
In addition, there were 129 people detained on federal criminal charges related to the September 11 investigation. As of mid-June, 73 remained in custody. All but one of their names have been made public.
The ruling does not affect prisoners held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suspected of supporting the Taliban regime that was ousted as part of a U.S. anti-terrorist push after the attacks of September 11.
The ruling is considered a victory for civil rights groups and came in a lawsuit filed against the Justice Department by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Center for National Security Studies and others.
The government had argued that it could withhold the names under an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act that protects any information "compiled for law enforcement purposes" whenever it "could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings."
The United States argued that disclosure of the names might deter knowledgeable witnesses from cooperating with the investigation, because members of terrorist groups might threaten them; would reveal the progress and direction of the investigation; and would allow terrorist groups to interfere with the investigation by providing false information.
The judge found all the arguments "unpersuasive." She noted that the government has already released several names of detainees, including some it said were connected to al Qaeda, and the government has allowed detainees to inform anyone they wanted about their detention.
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