(CN) – The FBI properly withheld more than 10,500 pages of FBI documents from Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of murdering two special agents. The court backed the FBI’s position that the requested information was exempt from disclosure.
In the 1970s, Peltier was extradited from Canada and convicted on two counts of first-degree murder for his role in the fatal shootings of two special agents in 1975. His convictions and two consecutive life sentences have since survived numerous appeals.
In 2001, he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all information the FBI had on him. The FBI gave him more than 70,000 pages of records, but withheld 10,557 pages of allegedly exempt material. The agency cited FOIA exemptions for records that “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” or that “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source.”
The FBI then moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted after reviewing a sample of about 500 withheld documents.
The federal appeals court in St. Louis affirmed, rejecting Peltier’s claim that the lower court should have reviewed every page of the withheld documents. He argued that disclosure would serve the public purpose of exposing the FBI’s “gross abuse of power” and the “outrageous manufacturing of evidence and flagrant impropriety of the government in producing false affidavits to secure Peltier’s extradition.”
The court acknowledged that the use of those affidavits had been a “clear abuse of the investigative process,” but said Peltier overstated the legal significance of the government’s improper actions in his analysis of the FOIA exemptions.
“So while this court has found certain improprieties on the part of the government, they are not so severe and extensive as to create a general public interest in disclosure,” the court wrote.
The court added that it wasn’t necessary for the court to review all 10,557 pages of withheld documents.