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The U.S. government is violating the Constitution and federal law by withholding basic information about some 1,000 people picked up by police since the terror attacks, the first lawsuit challenging government actions in the detentions alleged Wednesday. Attorney General John Ashcroft and other U.S. Justice Department officials have released fragments of information but will not reveal names or locations of detainees, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights and human rights groups said in the suit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “This secrecy is unprecedented and deprives the public of information it is lawfully entitled to receive,” the suit claimed. It demanded immediate release of government documents that civil rights groups requested in October. “We will obviously review the suit,” Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said. “The attorney general has been very clear about why certain information will not be released.” Last week, Ashcroft said he knew of no lawsuits filed to challenge the government’s arrest and detention of people, mainly from Muslim countries, who might have some connection with terrorism. There is broad public support for the government response, but civil liberties groups have said for weeks they would challenge it in court. One problem with mounting a court challenge is that so little is known about those detained. Lawyers would have to know basics about a case to claim that someone’s civil rights were violated. Wednesday’s suit seeks the kind of information that lawyers would need to take individual cases to court. It does not challenge the government’s right to arrest or detain anyone. “The Justice Department consistently refuses to provide the information necessary to guarantee the American public that those jailed since Sept. 11 are being accorded the constitutional protections guaranteed to all Americans,” said Steven Shapiro, the ACLU’s legal director. The ACLU and 17 other organizations claim the Justice Department and Immigration and Naturalization Service have missed deadlines to respond to requests for documents filed under the Freedom of Information Act and withheld information that should have been available under that law. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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