U.S. Can Conceal Records on Violence in Guatemala

     (CN) – The federal government has no duty to release records on the violence that a group of individuals or their loved ones suffered in Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s, the D.C. Circuit ruled. The court backed the government’s claim that the documents are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

     The petitioners individually sought records on past incidents of violence, including a fatal plane crash in 1976, the abduction and disappearance of family members in 1981, and the 1983 murder of one petitioner’s father in Guatemala.
     The National Security Agency and the CIA withheld part or all of the requested records under two FOIA exemptions.
     The first exemption protects national security or foreign policy secrets, while the other covers records “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute.”
     Government agencies can also refuse to confirm or deny the existence of certain records, known as the Glomar response – a tactic the government used with some of the petitioners.
     The district court upheld the records as exempt from disclosure, and the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., agreed.
     “The court concluded, and we agree, that the agencies’ affidavits standing alone were sufficiently specific to place the challenged documents within the exemption categories,” Judge Sentelle wrote, “and the plaintiffs did not contest the contents of the withholdings or present any evidence contradicting the affidavits or suggesting bad faith.”

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