A US federal judge on Monday ordered the Justice Department to reveal the evidence against more than 100 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, saying the public had a right to access any unclassified documents.
AFP - A federal judge on Monday ordered the US Justice Department to publicly reveal allegations and evidence in more than 100 pending cases of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
US District Judge Thomas Hogan ruled in favor of media and lawyers for the detainees in the US "war on terror" prison set up by former president George W. Bush, saying the public had a right to access unclassified documents.
The Justice Department, citing security reasons, had been filing unclassified versions of the records but under seal, so that they were only available to government officials, judges and attorneys.
"The government never sought to keep the information at issue sealed indefinitely, but only until the completion of an appropriate classification review," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd told AFP.
"The government had sought additional time from the Court to complete this review in order to ensure that the version of these documents made public contained no properly classified information."
In his opinion, Hogan said that allowing public access to the charges against the detainees "ensures greater oversight of the detentions and these proceedings."
The New York Times, USA Today and the Associated Press had filed a motion in the case, arguing that the public had a constitutional right to access the information.
Lawyers for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the US naval base in southern Cuba where 240 men are still held, have argued that the secrecy surrounding the legal documents had hampered their efforts to adequately prepare for hearings.
Hogan's order, which could potentially apply to 107 habeas corpus cases, came almost a year after the Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees have a right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts under the habeas writ.
"Today's decision is a victory to transparency," said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a rights group that represents several Guantanamo prisoners.
"For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover up illegal detention and abuse."
Hogan handed the Justice Department a July 29 deadline to publicly file unclassified records or highlight, in a filing to the court, the specific information it wants to keep secret.
"As long as public access does not come at the expense of the litigation interests of petitioners or national security, the court believes the public has a common law right to access the returns," Hogan said.
The government has said it was unaware of how much classified information is contained in the unclassified records.
Its request for an extension, Boyd said, was driven by the fact that the Justice Department had focused its "limited classification resources" on creating versions of the documents for detainees' lawyers to share with their clients and witnesses.
Hogan said the government's demands that it alone be allowed to determine what information could be sealed "attempts to usurp the court's discretion to seal judicial records."
President Barack Obama has vowed to shutter the controversial detention facility at Guantanamo Bay by January 22, 2010, but his plans have faced reluctance from other countries to take in the prisoners and domestic opposition to transferring them to US soil.
Date created : 2009-06-02