Government documents related to military hearings for Guantanamo Bay detainees are of "urgent concern" to the public and should be released, according to a lawsuit filed by The Associated Press against the Defense Department.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, stated AP has been able to report only anecdotally on 558 tribunals conducted since August to let detainees challenge their incarceration at the Cuban base. The news agency said the proceedings were "unquestionably of great interest to the public."
It asked the court to order the government to turn over transcripts of all Guantanamo detainees' testimony, along with written statements by the detainees and any documents they have submitted.
A telephone message left with a spokesman for government lawyers in Manhattan was not immediately returned Tuesday. The telephone of a Defense Department employee handling AP's administrative appeal went unanswered.
The news agency submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in the fall, but it said the Defense Department has refused to provide the documents and has not processed the company's appeal of the government's failure to act.
AP maintained the information was a "matter of urgent concern" as it reports on constitutional and foreign policy issues presented by the government's handling of hundreds of detainees since January 2002.
The lawsuit noted the government began holding combatant status review tribunals to let detainees rebut their classifications as "enemy combatants" after the Supreme Court ruled last June that detainees may challenge their imprisonment.
The tribunals have resulted in 38 detainees among more than 500 terrorism suspects at Guantanamo being declared "non-enemy combatants."
AP's lawsuit said it was told in March that the government would begin turning over documents in "waves," beginning the first week of April. On Friday, the suit said, the AP was told the government would not begin reviewing and redacting the documents until this week.
The U.S. military has released 232 detainees from Guantanamo, although 65 were let go on the condition that they continue to be held by their home governments.
Human rights groups and defense lawyers have long charged that some information used as the basis for incarceration resulted from abuse or torture.
The government has denied using torture, but multiple investigations into abuse at detention camps in Afghanistan and Guantanamo are under way.
The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking all photographs and videotapes depicting the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo. Although a court ordered the government to comply with the FOIA request and turn over documents — thousands of which the ACLU has received — the government has refused to provide videos, citing privacy concerns, the ACLU says.
The government has said there are about 520 detainees at Guantanamo from about 40 countries. The detainees were picked up mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The Bush administration's designation of the detainees as enemy combatants means they have fewer legal protections than prisoners of war receive under the Geneva Conventions and can be held indefinitely without charges. The classification includes anyone who supported the Taliban or al-Qaida.
© 2005 The Associated Press