NEW YORK – A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Department of Defense to release documents containing the identities of some detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who were released or who suffered mistreatment by their handlers or other detainees.
In ruling in a case brought by The Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff said the government cannot keep the names secret. He gave the government a week to provide the news organization with the information despite government claims that doing so would violate detainees' privacy.
"The public interest in disclosing government malfeasance is well-established," the judge wrote.
David A. Schulz, who argued the case for the AP, called the judge's decision "a resounding victory for the public's right to know."
He said the identities of between 50 and 100 detainees who were ordered to be transferred or released from Guantanamo Bay after Jan. 1, 2005, will allow reporters to attempt to verify whether the government's account of events is accurate.
"The Department of Defense has made it virtually impossible for anyone to check the accuracy or thoroughness of what is going on in Guantanamo," Schulz said. "The public is supposed to be able to determine these things for itself."
A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors, Lauren McDonough, said the government had no immediate comment.
The judge said some military officers and FBI agents who have worked at Guantanamo also have questioned the treatment of detainees. The judge also noted that some detainees have initiated hunger strikes to protest what they consider abuse, while other detainees, since released, have gone public with allegations of abuse.
"In all such instances, the detainees have not hesitated to reveal their identities," he said.
Schulz said the judge also ordered the government to turn over the identities in eight files reporting investigations of allegations of abuse of detainees by military personnel and fewer than a dozen probes of abuse of detainees by other detainees.
Earlier this year, the judge ordered the Department of Defense to turn over to the AP unredacted copies of transcripts and documents related to 558 military hearings in which detainees were permitted to challenge their incarcerations.
The government's treatment of the hundreds of prisoners at the eastern Cuba prison camp has troubled human rights groups. Most have been held without being charged or publicly identified since investigations were begun into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The AP filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking the documents last year. The government turned over the transcripts of the 558 tribunals but redacted facts about each detainee's identity before the judge ordered it to release versions that included such information.
The detainees are from Afghanistan, Russia, Persian Gulf countries and elsewhere. Many were captured in Afghanistan.
Also Wednesday, a federal judge said that the U.S. military may review thousands of legal documents seized from detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in a probe of suicides that may have been coordinated.
In June, three detainees were found hanged in their cells. One suicide note had been written on paper stamped "attorney-client privelege," and belonged to another detainee, according to court papers. U.S. District Judge James Robertson, in rulings issued Wednesday and last Friday, ordered an independent "filter team" to review the paperwork for evidence.
Attorneys for dozens of detainees had opposed that and demanded the government return the legal documents. Irrelevant and protected documents must be returned to the detainees, the judge ruled. He ordered the government to keep meticulous records during the process.
Robertson acknowledged that the decision likely will be appealed. Another judge in the same court opted not to set up such a filter process last mon