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Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
US judge outlaws secret arrests
World Trade Center debris
More than 3,000 people died in the terror attacks
A US federal judge has ordered the government to disclose within 15 days the names of suspects being held in connection with the 11 September attacks.

District Judge Gladys Kessler allowed for only two exceptions - if the detainee is a material witness to a terror investigation or if the person being held does not want to be identified.


The decision is a complete repudiation of the attorney general's policy of rounding up hundreds of individuals in secrecy

Kate Martin, civil rights campaigner

American civil rights groups have welcomed the ruling - one said it was a vindication of basic freedoms.

The US Justice Department says it will review the ruling, but the BBC's Rob Watson in Washington says there is no doubt this is an embarrassing defeat for the government.

It had argued that releasing the names would reveal too much to terror groups like Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

In her ruling, the judge said that while the court understood the government's first priority in a time of crisis was the security of its citizens, it was the obligation of the judicial branch to ensure the government was operating constitutionally.

The Justice Department now has 15 days to decide how many of those being held can be described as material witnesses.

Most deported

A material witness means somebody who was close enough to a crime to have information or details that could be used by prosecutors to convict a suspect.

Inmate at Camp X-Ray
Detainees at Guantanamo Bay are not included in the ruling
The Justice Department has detained nearly 1,200 people in relation to its 11 September investigation, according to officials.

Most of them have since been deported, but the government disclosed in June that at least 147 people were still being held, including 74 on charges involving immigration infractions.

The ruling does not affect detainees at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are beyond the jurisdiction of US courts.

Civil rights victory

The ruling is a victory for more than 20 civil liberties groups, which challenged the government's policy of secret arrests under the Freedom of Information Act.

"The decision is a complete repudiation of the attorney general's policy of rounding up hundreds of individuals in secrecy," said Kate Martin, of the Center for National Security Studies.

Policeman
The US has been on a high state of alert since 11 September
"The opinion is a vindication of the basic principle that you can't have secret arrests, that secret arrests are undemocratic."

"The government acknowledges that many of those being held in secret are no longer suspected of being involved in a terrorist group. That is too much power," Ms Martin said.

But they did not get everything they wanted.

Ms Kessler decided to uphold the government's right to keep secret the locations where detainees are being held.

She said there was a significant risk that the prisons could be targeted by those angered by the detentions.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh
"The federal judge ridiculed the government's reasons for secrecy"
Wendy Patten, Human Rights Watch
"Secret arrests are odious to democratic society"

Key stories

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Background

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See also:

01 Aug 02 | Americas
01 May 02 | Americas
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27 Feb 02 | Americas
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