Government appeals order to release detainees' names
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON The Bush administration is appealing a judge's order that the Justice Department must reveal the names of all those held in the investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Government attorneys are also asking for a temporary stay of the order, which would allow the government to keep the names secret until after the appeal.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled last week that the Justice Department has not proven the need for a blanket policy of secrecy about more than 1,000 people picked up since the jetliner attacks.
In the documents filed late on Aug. 8, the government said that Kessler had missed the point about keeping the names secret.
Kessler ordered the government to release the names within 15 days, in part because she rejected the Justice Department's argument that it would tip al-Qaida to the extent of the U.S. investigation.
In her opinion, she said that al-Qaida would likely already be aware of all those cell members who have been captured by the United States.
But government lawyers argued in court documents that many of those detained are not believed to be al-Qaida members, but rather were illegal immigrants who were suspected of having knowledge of terrorist activities.
Therefore, releasing the names would give al-Qaida significant information that it might not already have, the government argued.
"While some information may have been available to our enemies, a compendium of the entire universe of information regarding the identities of detainees has never been provided, much less officially confirmed," the government said in its notice of appeal.
The ruling by Kessler did provide for exceptions to the release of names: if an individual detainee objects or if the government can show that separate court orders prohibit release of information about someone held as a material witness in a terrorism investigation.
A material witness allegedly has substantial information about a crime but is not charged with it. Such witnesses may be arrested, but they may not be held indefinitely.
Those arrested apparently are all foreign citizens, and many have been charged with immigration violations. Some have already been deported.
The department has said nearly 1,200 people were swept up by federal, state and local authorities following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that took more than 3,000 lives.
The government disclosed that 752 people were arrested or detained on immigration charges between Sept. 11, 2001, and June 24, 2002. Others were held on different charges.
In late June, the Justice Department reported that at least 147 people still were being held, including 74 on charges involving immigration infractions. Prosecutors have not said how many people are being held as material witnesses.
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