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A federal judge ruled Friday the United States must reveal the names of people detained in the investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a major victory for civil rights groups. The order by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler gives the government 15 days to comply and allows only two exceptions: if the detainee is a material witness to a terror investigation and if the person being held does not want to be identified. Kessler, of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, rejected the Justice Department’s argument that releasing names would allow terrorist groups to gauge the progress of the government’s investigation. In her opinion, Kessler said the government doesn’t say or even hint that any of the detainees had connections to terrorism. “The government has provided no information on the standard used to arrest and detain individuals initially,” she wrote. The Justice Department said almost 1,200 people were detained by federal, state and local authorities following the Sept. 11 attacks and many have already been deported. The government also disclosed that between Sept. 11 and June 24, there were 752 arrested or detained in immigration charges. The others were arrested for differing charges. In late June, the Justice Department reported that at least 147 people still were being held, including 74 on charges involving immigration infractions. Prosecutors have not said how many people are being held as material witnesses. In law, material witness means a person was close enough to a crime to have information or details that could be used by prosecutors to convict a suspect. Kessler also ruled Friday that the government must release names of attorneys representing the detainees. She said lawyers, unlike suspects, have no expectation of privacy and are well equipped to “handle their own affairs.” Kessler did uphold the government’s right to keep secret the locations of where detainees are being held. She said there is a significant risk that the prisons could be targeted by those angered by the detentions. The Justice Department assailed the ruling but did not say whether it would appeal. The government believes the ruling “impedes one of the most important federal law enforcement investigations in history, harms our efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the heinous attacks of Sept. 11, and increases the risk of future terrorist threats to our nation,” said Robert McCallum, assistant attorney general for civil rights. The information “could jeopardize the investigation and provide valuable information to terrorists seeking to cause even greater harm to the safety of the American people,” he said in a statement. Groups suing the government to disclose the names include the People for the American Way Foundation, the Center for National Security Studies, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The groups argued that, by keeping the names secret, the government expanded its own power without any congressional support and in conflict with statutes on public information. Civil rights groups called the ruling a landmark victory. “We do not have nor should we allow a system of secret arrests and jailings in the United States. The court recognized that,” said Lucas Guttentag, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s immigration rights project. “It’s a careful and thoughtful opinion that rejects the notion of secret detentions in the United States and that repudiates the government’s suggestion that this kind of secrecy is necessary to an effective investigation.” Elliott Mincberg, legal director of People for the American Way, predicted the ruling would stand up on appeal. “The American people have a right to know what the government is doing in their name,” Mincberg said. “There is no doubt that the investigation following Sept. 11 was critical to national security. However, by sweeping an unknown number of people into open-ended detentions without releasing so much as their names, the government minimizes the role of oversight in America.” Justice Department attorney Ann Weisman had argued primarily that releasing the names would reveal too much to terror groups like Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network. “Terrorists may be able to map the progress of the investigation by communicating with those detained and charting who has been detained and where,” Weisman said. “Terrorist groups could decide to switch to an alternate cell if one cell is proven to be compromised by a detainment” Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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