Federal judge hears arguments over releasing detainees' names
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON The Justice Department is ignoring fundamental freedom-of-information laws by keeping secret the names of those detained as part of the Sept. 11 investigation, civil rights and public access groups said in federal court yesterday.
The case, argued before U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, was brought by the groups in response to the government's repeated refusals to reveal the names and locations of those detained.
It will likely decide how much the government can keep secret in its effort to capture terrorists.
The groups suing the government for the names include the American Civil Liberties Union, the People for the American Way Foundation, the Center for National Security Studies, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Kate Martin, an attorney representing the groups, said the government has expanded its own power without any congressional support and in conflict with statutes on public information.
"This secrecy, though now linked to Sept. 11, would allow the secret jailing of any immigration violator for any reason, as long as they are linked to a pending investigation," Martin said. "The government acknowledges that many of those being held in secret are no longer suspected of being involved in a terrorist group. That is too much power."
Justice Department attorney Ann Weisman said releasing the names would only help terrorists plan more attacks and avoid detection by law enforcement.
"Terrorists may be able to map the progress of the investigation by communicating with those detained and charting who has been detained and where," Weisman said. "Terrorist groups could decide to switch to an alternate cell if one cell is proven to be compromised by a detainment."
In the eight months since the attacks, the government has detained more than 1,100 people, mostly Arab or Muslim men, as part of an effort to find links to terrorists. Some have been held in solitary confinement and the government is not revealing how many have lawyers. The government is also keeping secret how many are still being held.
Martin said releasing their names would not help terrorist groups plan groups like al-Qaida could reasonably assume that any operative they could not contact was being held by the government. "They don't need a list of names for that," Martin said.
Kessler would not estimate how long it would take her to rule on the complaint. Attorneys on both sides speculated a judgment could take more than a month.
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