(CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the Army’s medical examiner to release information about the effectiveness of body armor used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to justify the decision to withhold it.
The records were sought by Roger Charles, a retired veteran and vice chairman of Soldiers for the Truth, a nonprofit organization aimed at “ensuring America’s frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear.”
Charles began to research after hearing reports that the body armor U.S. soldiers are given does not provide adequate protection. To gather empirical data, he requested documents from the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner that purportedly describe bullet wounds to the torso area covered by armor.
Charles’s Freedom of Information Act request yielded 103 autopsy results and 18 body armor records, which the agency refused to release, citing personal privacy and privileged intra-agency concerns.
Hoping to obtain redacted versions of the autopsy results, Charles narrowed his request, seeking records “commenting [on], discussing or indicating” fatal torso bullet wounds or body armor failure.
But the documents were once again withheld, with the government claiming to have no “statements” fitting the revised request. The agency said it was impossible for the person conducting the search to draw “scientifically valid conclusions” based on the content of the autopsy reports.
U.S. District Court Ricardo Urbina ruled that the agency’s restrictions on the search were unreasonable.
“To allow an agency to restrict the number of documents it deems responsive during a FOIA search based on its interpretation of the plaintiff’s purpose in making the requests … is inconsistent with the spirit and purpose of FOIA,” Urbina wrote.
He ordered the agency to release the documents or to further justify why they warranted withholding under specific FOIA exemptions.