Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pentagon ordered to identify detainee abuse cases

Pentagon ordered to identify detainee abuse cases
By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge ordered the Pentagon on Wednesday to identify some detainees who say they were abused by U.S. military personnel at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff rejected arguments by the Defense Department that it needed to black out the names and other identifying information of detainees to protect their privacy and he ordered the redactions removed within a week.

The Associated Press filed a lawsuit last year seeking the detainees' names and transcripts of U.S. military hearings.

In response to a ruling in the case earlier this year, the Pentagon released all the names of detainees being held at the naval base and the transcripts, but blocked which names matched eight files of disciplinary actions taken against Defense Department personnel for detainee abuse.

"By redacting the names of the abused detainees, DOD (Department of Defense) has seriously interfered with the ability of the public to engage in the independent fact-finding necessary to properly evaluate the allegations of abuse," the judge said.

In the ruling, the judge noted the "considerable public interest" in learning the treatment of detainees, "whether they have been abused, and whether such abuse has been properly investigated," outweighed the privacy interest argued by the government.

"This is not like the situation of, say, a whistleblower, whose anonymity is protected to avoid retaliation," he said. "Here, the detainees' identities were fully known to both the personnel they accused and the personnel who responded to the accusations."

The allegations of abuse contained in the eight files include an attempt by a soldier to spray a detainee with a water hose, a guard inappropriately using pepper spray on a detainee, a guard striking a detainee and another guard verbally harassing a detainee and splashing a cleansing product in his face, according to the ruling.

As part of the ruling, the Pentagon must also release the names of detainees who have accused other detainees of abuse as well as identifying information in documents explaining why a detainee was released or transferred.

Heather Tasker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, had no immediate comment on whether the government would appeal.