Center for National Security Studies v. United States Department of Justice

331 F.3d 918 (2003)

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Center for National Security Studies v. United States Department of Justice

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
331 F.3d 918 (2003)

Facts

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal government (defendant) detained numerous individuals on various grounds, including violations of immigration law, criminal charges, and as material witnesses. Public-interest groups, including the Center for National Security Studies (together, the center) (plaintiffs) sued the government under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The center sought disclosure of information related to all persons detained following the September 11 attacks, including their names and attorneys, dates of arrest and release, locations of arrest and detention, whether any charges had been filed, copies of court proceedings involving the individuals, and basis for detention. The center claimed that detainees were being mistreated, unlawfully detained, and physically harmed. The government released limited information related to a few detainees who had been found to have a connection to terrorist activity but for the most part did not comply with the FOIA request. The government refused to produce a comprehensive list of all detainees based on FOIA’s law-enforcement exemption, arguing that disclosure would impair the ongoing investigation of the September 11 attacks and other terrorist activity, would violate the privacy interests of detainees who might not wish to be publicly associated with a terrorism investigation, and would harm the public because of law enforcement’s impaired ability to combat terrorism. Officials attested, for example, that a detainee might be less likely to provide relevant testimony, or terrorists might cut off communication with a detainee, if the detainee’s identity was publicly disclosed. The district court ordered release of the detainees’ and their attorneys’ names only. The center appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Sentelle, J.)

Dissent (Tatel, J.)

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