WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. government must offer some insight as to why it withheld documents about the capture and detention of an American man imprisoned in Yemen on suspicion of murder, a federal judge ruled.
Although the details of his arrest are unclear, Sharif Mobley says he is in a Yemen prison, accused of murdering a prison guard. Believing that the U.S. government played a role in his arrest and incarceration, Mobley filed a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act for related documents.
After admitting that it identified 13 relevant documents, the government claimed application of exemptions for national defense and attorney-client privilege.
In a federal lawsuit, Mobley asked the government to provide a Vaughn index, which takes its name from the 1973 case Vaughn v. Rosen. Vaughn indexes must identify each document withheld, state the statutory exemption claimed, and explain how disclosure would damage the interests protected by the claimed exemption.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell refused to dismiss Monday based on the government's claims that Mobley has not actually challenged the withholdings.
"The plaintiff concedes in his opposition to the defendant's motion to dismiss that 'it is very likely that the records are properly classified and accordingly exempt under FOIA exemption (b)(1),' ... but this frank assessment of his own case does not negate the fact that the plaintiff initiated the instant lawsuit because he suspects that the defendant improperly withheld documents, and states in his complaint that he intends to contest withholdings that he deems to be improper," Howell wrote.
Mobley's attorney asked the Justice Department to explain if the documents were "general records about renditions and the like, or if they directly discuss Mr. Mobley."