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Homeland Security

Washington File

17 June 2003

U.S. Court Rules Non-American Detainees' Names May Be Withheld

(Government acted properly by not revealing Sept. 11 detainees) (620)
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington has ruled that the
U.S. government acted legally by withholding the names and other
personal details of several hundred foreigners who were detained
during its investigation in the immediate aftermath of the September
11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a prepared statement June
17 that he was pleased the Appeals Court agreed with the decision by
the Bush administration that withholding vital information on those
detained prevented terrorists and terrorist groups from gaining
information on the U.S. investigation. The appeals panel said in a 2-1
decision that the federal courts should defer to the concerns
expressed by the White House that disclosure of such information would
pose an added threat to U.S. national security.
"America faces an enemy just as real as its former Cold War foes, with
capabilities beyond the capacity of the judiciary to explore.... [W]e
hold that the government's expectation that disclosure of the
detainees' names would enable al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups to
map the course of the investigation and thus develop the means to
impede it is reasonable," the Appeals Court said in its decision.
Following is the text of Ashcroft's statement:
(begin text)
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.
June 17, 2003
STATEMENT OF ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT
REGARDING THE DECISION ISSUED IN 
CENTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES V. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: 
"Today's ruling is a victory for the Justice Department's careful
measures to safeguard sensitive information about our terrorism
investigations as well as the privacy of individuals who chose not to
make public their connection to the government's probe. The Justice
Department is working diligently to prevent another catastrophic
attack on America. We are pleased the court agreed we should not give
terrorists a virtual roadmap to our investigation that could allow
terrorists to chart a potentially deadly detour around our efforts."
In approving the government's lawful, measured steps in the war on
terrorism, the court wrote, "America faces an enemy just as real as
its former Cold War foes, with capabilities beyond the capacity of the
judiciary to explore.... [W]e hold that the government's expectation
that disclosure of the detainees' names would enable al-Qaeda or other
terrorist groups to map the course of the investigation and thus
develop the means to impede it is reasonable. A complete list of names
informing terrorists of every suspect detained by the government at
any point during the September 11 investigation would give terrorist
organizations a composite picture of the government investigation, and
since these organizations would generally know the activities and
locations of its members on or about September 11, disclosure would
inform terrorists of both the substantive and geographic focus of the
investigation. Moreover, disclosure would inform terrorists which of
their members were compromised by the investigation, and which were
not. This information could allow terrorists to better evade the
ongoing investigation and more easily formulate or revise
counter-efforts."
The court continued, "Knowing when and where each individual was
arrested would provide a chronological and geographical picture of the
government investigation. Terrorists could learn from this information
not only where the government focused its investigation but how that
investigation progressed step by step. Armed with that knowledge, they
could then reach such conclusions as, for example, which cells had
been compromised, and which individuals had been cooperative with the
United States. They might well be able to derive conclusions as to how
[to] more adequately secure their clandestine operations in future
terrorist undertakings."
(end text)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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