Court: Feds Can Keep Terror Detainees' Names Secret

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Bush administration is not obligated to publicly identify the 762 foreigners it detained in the weeks and months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (search) rejected arguments that the Justice Department should have publicly provided the names of detainees, names of their lawyers, dates they were picked up and the reasons why they were being detained.

The court affirmed that the information can properly be withheld from the public under an existing exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (search). That provision exempts information from disclosure if it is compiled for law enforcement purposes and if revealing it "could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings."

The case was brought by the Center for National Security Studies (search) and other public interest groups. Lawyers for the groups had objected to the Justice Department's denial of their request for detailed information about the foreigners detained during the government's investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler (search) last August ordered the government to release the names but delayed enforcing her order to give the government time to appeal. Kessler said the Justice Department could withhold other information under the Freedom of Information Act exemption.

The appeals panel, however, went further in Tuesday's ruling, permitting the Bush administration to withhold from public disclosure of even the names of the foreigners and the names of their lawyers.