WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court refused today to consider whether the government properly withheld names and other details about hundreds of foreigners detained in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The high court turned down a request to review the secrecy surrounding detainees, nearly all Arabs or Muslims, who were picked up in the United States immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Many, if not most, of the more than 700 detainees at issue in the case have since been deported. Some picked up after Sept. 11, 2001, were charged with crimes, and others were held as material witnesses. Only Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen who was detained before the Sept. 11 attacks, is being prosecuted in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Washington-based Center for National Security Studies was critical of the Bush administration responses after Sept. 11 sued to learn names and other basic information about the detainees. The appeal raises constitutional questions under the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and legal questions under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Twenty-three news organizations and media groups, including The Associated Press, joined in asking the high court to hear the case, Center for National Security Studies v. Justice Department.
"It is the responsibility of courts, and especially this court, to provide meaningful judicial review when the government invokes national security to justify unprecedented secrecy in exercising its awesome power to arrest and detain hundreds of people," lawyers for the Center for National Security Studies argued in a Court filing.
"History shows that, in times of crisis and fear, executive officials are prone to overreact, especially in their treatment of minorities in their midst," the appeal said.
The government grabbed people on thin suspicion, then moved to deport detainees who had no demonstrated link to terrorism but who had violated civil immigration laws, lawyers for the Center for National Security Studies told the Court.
The government sealed immigration records and omitted detainees' names from jail rosters, among other tactics, to make sure that details of hundreds of arrests remained secret, the lawyers said.
Last June, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the Justice Department had properly withheld the names and other details about the detainees. The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that disclosing such information could provide a roadmap of the government's Sept. 11 investigation for international terrorists.
The high court's decision not to review the case represents a victory for the Bush administration. Last week, the high court disappointed the administration by taking on a higher-profile terrorism case involving the rights of an American citizen of Saudi origin captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. The Bush administration had argued strongly that it has authority to hold the man, Yaser Esam Hamdi, indefinitely and without charges in a military prison.