Judge Rules Guantanamo Legal Documents Must Be Public

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A federal judge ordered the United States to make unclassified versions of its allegations and evidence public. These documents justify the continued imprisonment of more than 100 detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

The Justice Department had been filing unclassified versions of its legal documents under seal, so that only judges, attorneys and government officials could view them. Attorneys for the detainees were able to share the documents with their clients and witnesses, who would agree to rules restricting the information’s disclosure.

Department officials say that the practice was necessary in order to protect national security, after they found that some unclassified records accidentally contained some classified information. The department had said that the documents were only closed temporarily while they were able to review the situation.

Several news agencies protested that the government was keeping valuable information from the public, who has a right to monitor the legal process. Attorneys for the detainees said the secrecy made it harder for them to prepare for upcoming hearings.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan agreed with the detainees’ attorneys and the media, saying that the public has the right to view the records.

“The issue of what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay remains a source of great public interest and debate,” Hogan wrote. “Providing the public with access to the charges levied against these detainees, as detailed in the factual returns, ensures greater oversight of the detentions and these proceedings. 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.”

The judge ordered that all the classified records be made public by July 29, with the exact words that they want to keep protected marked in a colored highlighter pen.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the ruling is under review and that the documents were never meant to be sealed indefinitely.

Dave Tomlin, the associate general counsel for the Associated Press, said the ruling was “a very welcome affirmation of what we think was clear from the start.”

“A court doesn’t have to accept the government’s word that keeping court records secret protects important security interests,” Tomlin said. “The government must try to prove it, and it’s the court’s job to decide if they’ve succeeded.”

 

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