(CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the government to release unclassified versions of its allegations and evidence justifying the continued imprisonment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
“The issue of what to do with detainees at Guantanamo Bay remains a source of great public interest and debate,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan wrote. “Providing the public with access to the charges levied against these detainees, as detailed in the factual returns, ensures greater oversight of the detentions and these proceedings.”
Several press agencies had objected to the Justice Department’s practice of filing unclassified versions of its legal documents under seal, in order to restrict access to judges, attorneys and government officials.
The government insisted that the documents needed to be sealed, because some of the unclassified documents mistakenly contained classified information.
Attorneys for the detainees objected to what they considered a blank request to protect unclassified information. They were allowed to share the evidence with clients and witnesses, only after the viewers agreed not to disclose the information. Attorneys said the secrecy rules made it difficult to prepare for hearings.
The Associated Press, the New York Times Co. and USA Today successfully intervened in the case, opposing the government’s motion on First Amendment grounds.
Judge Hogan backed the petitioners’ arguments for making the records available to the public. Significantly, the judge broke new ground in deciding that the public has a right to access filings in habeas proceedings.