ACLU Joins Coalition in Filing FOIA Lawsuit on Detainees

December 5, 2001 12:00 am

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Statement of Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director
American Civil Liberties Union


WASHINGTON — What happened on September 11th was terrible and tragic. No one questions the government’s right – indeed, its responsibility – to conduct a thorough and complete investigation. We share a common goal in finding those responsible for the September 11th attacks and preventing future attacks.

From the beginning, however, this Administration has conducted an investigation designed to minimize any outside scrutiny of its actions and frustrate the system of checks and balances. Not content with the broad array of new powers it was given by Congress, the Administration has assumed broad new powers on its own without Congressional approval or even consultation. Whenever possible, it has sought to reduce and restrict the role of the judiciary as an independent check on government misconduct. And it has deprived the American public of the basic information it needs to judge for itself how the government is doing its job.

Since September 11th, hundreds of people have been arrested, detained and virtually disappeared from public sight. That may be the way other countries operate; it is not the way this country functions. The American people have the right to know who has been arrested, where and why they are detained, the condition of their confinement and whether they are being given proper access to counsel and the judicial process.

There seems to be little dispute at this point that the vast majority of those caught in the government’s dragnet have no relationship whatsoever to the events of September 11th and have in fact only been charged with minimal and technical immigration violations. Yet without knowing who they are, it is impossible to determine whether they are being treated in a fair and nondiscriminatory fashion.

This lawsuit does not seek access to classified secrets. It does not ask the government to reveal its intelligence sources and methods. But it is absolutely critical that the American public has the information it needs to decide whether the Justice Department’s actions are consistent with the freedoms we are now fighting to defend and whether those actions are likely to be effective. Serious questions have been raised on both counts, including by former senior FBI officials. Serious questions that lead us today to join with a coalition of civil rights and human rights groups to file this action.

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