N.J. judge orders counties to release detainees' names
By The Associated Press
NEWARK, N.J. A judge's order to make public the names of the more than 300 people detained after the Sept. 11 attacks means the unprecedented secrecy surrounding the government's handling of the arrests may finally be coming to an end, advocates for the detainees said.
Hudson County Assignment Judge Arthur N. D'Italia on March 26 sided with the Newark chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which went to court seeking the names of detainees held in the Hudson and Passaic county jails. The ACLU argued that under state law, the names of all imprisoned persons are public information.
But the judge's ruling won't take effect until the U.S. Justice Department has had an opportunity to appeal the decision. Yesterday, Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said the government would do just that. He declined further comment.
"I think this could be the beginning of the end for secrecy," said Ronald Chen, associate dean for academic affairs at Rutgers School of Law, who argued the case for the ACLU. "Secret detention is an anathema in our society, and this has gone on too long."
He and others working with detainees said the decision, although limited to two northern New Jersey jails, could have nationwide ramifications if it is allowed to stand.
"It should send a message to the government: Enough is enough," said Sohail Mohammed, a Clifton immigration lawyer who has represented dozens of detainees in New Jersey jails. "This is precedent-setting and should be highly persuasive in other cases.
"It reinforces the argument we've been making all along, that there is no room in our system of laws for secrecy, especially when we are talking about the courts," he said. "That has been a bedrock of our judicial system since the founding of this country."
Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the Newark ACLU chapter, said D'Italia's ruling is the first of its kind in the nation to chip away at the veil of secrecy surrounding the detainees.
"As far as I know, this is a very unique situation," she said.
Ed Barocas, the group's legal director, termed the ruling "an important victory against government secrecy." He said the ACLU needs access to the detainees' names to offer them representation and to see whether they are being treated properly while in custody.
The government claims keeping the names secret is a matter of national security because terrorist groups don't know whether any of their members are in custody in the United States.
The national ACLU is seeking the names of all remaining detainees nationwide. The most recent count released by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service found 326 post-Sept. 11 detainees still in custody, most of whom are in jails in northern New Jersey. The majority of detainees are being held on immigration charges, typically for overstaying tourist or work visas.
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