WASHINGTON - A federal judge on Monday ordered the US Justice Department to publicly reveal allegations and evidence in more than 100 pending cases of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
US District Judge Thomas Hogan ruled in favor of media and lawyers for the detainees in the US "war on terror" prison, saying that the public had a right to access unclassified documents.
The Justice Department, citing security reasons, had been filing unclassified versions of the records but under seal, so that they were only available to government officials, judges and attorneys.
"The issue of what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay remains a source of great public interest and debate," Hogan noted in his opinion.
"Providing the public with access to the charges levied against these detainees, as detailed in the factual returns, ensures greater oversight of the detentions and these proceedings."
The New York Times, USA Today and the Associated Press had filed a motion in the case, arguing that the public had a constitutional right to access the information.
Lawyers for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the US naval base in southern Cuba were 240 men are still held, have argued that the secrecy surrounding the legal documents had hampered their efforts to adequately prepare for hearings.
Hogan's order came almost a year after the Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees have a right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts under the writ of habeas corpus. Monday's ruling could potentially apply to 107 habeas cases.
Hogan handed the Justice Department a July 29 deadline to publicly file unclassified records or highlight with a colored marker the specific portions of the documents it wants to keep secret in a filing to the court.
"As long as public access does not come at the expense of the litigation interests of petitioners or national security, the court believes the public has a common law right to access the returns," Hogan said.
The government has said it was unaware of how much classified information is contained in the unclassified records and requested that the court allow it to keep them protected until it can "produce versions of the returns that may be publicly disclosed," according to court documents.
Hogan said the government's demands that it alone be allowed to determine what information could be sealed "attempts to usurp the court's discretion to seal judicial records."