Terror Supporter Loses Claim for DOJ Records
(CN) - The U.S. Justice Department does not have to provide a man convicted of supporting a terrorist group a copy of the sealed material witness warrant affidavit in his case, a federal judge ruled.
Khalid Awan was convicted in 2006 for providing support to the Khalistan Commando Force, an armed Sikh terrorist organization, and sentenced to 14 years in 2012 after his original sentence was vacated.
Awan asked the Justice Department to release his arrest warrant and affidavits in support of that arrest under the Freedom of Information Act, and filed suit in Washington when the agency refused him.
After granting the government partial summary judgment last year, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell sided with Awan on the deferred issue - the withholding of a sealed affidavit supporting a material witness warrant.
Howell told the government to release portions of the document that were withheld solely under FOIA's Exemption 3, saying that the government's compliance with such an order is not an improper withholding.
In its motion for reconsideration, the government then provided the court with an April order by the Southern District of New York that says the material witness warrant application "was sealed with the intent to prohibit its disclosure, pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e), for as long as the seal remains in effect."
With this in mind, Howell said Thursday that he would have to rule for the government.
"The plaintiff counters that he is entitled to the document because he was a party to the criminal action, but this argument reflects a basic misunderstanding about the FOIA," Howell wrote. "Unlike a 'constitutionally compelled disclosure to a single party' during discovery in criminal litigation, ... a disclosure of information under the FOIA is a release not only to the requester but to the public at large.
"In light of the recently obtained clarifying order, the court concludes that the government's withholding of the material witness warrant affidavit in compliance with the sealing order does not constitute an improper withholding under the FOIA," Howell continued. "Accordingly, the court will grant the defendants' motion for reconsideration, vacate the order directing partial release of the material witness warrant affidavit, and enter judgment for the defendants on all claims."