[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [decision, PDF] Monday that the government is not required to release documents that are designated as secret, even though they have allegedly been made available to the public already. The case involves a request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] for the government to release 23 documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text]. The documents in question were allegedly made public through the controversial intelligence-leaking website Wikileaks [website; JURIST news archive]. The government ultimately responded to the request by releasing redacted versions of 11 of the documents and withholding the remaining 12 documents entirely. The ACLU argued in its complaint [text, PDF] that the government should release all the documents in full, since no additional harm could result from releasing documents that are already available to the public. In her decision, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly concluded that the government has broad discretion in withholding classified information, and that the government had not acknowledged that the released documents are identical to their own copies. The ACLU expressed disappointment [press release] in the decision, saying that the court had upheld the secrecy of the documents “despite the fact that they are already accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection and a passing interest in current events.”
The US government has struggled to deal with the release of confidential files on Wikileaks. Army Col. Denise Lind last month ordered [JURIST report] the prosecution in the case against Pfc. Bradley Manning [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] to submit to her a number of files that were allegedly withheld from the defense during discovery. Manning is accused of transferring more than 700,000 confidential documents and video clips to Wikileaks, the largest intelligence leak is US history. Manning’s defense has argued the leaks did not hurt US national security, but the US Army has responded that Manning’s actions indirectly aided al Qaeda. Manning was formally charged [JURIST report] in February with 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, under the Espionage Act [text]. In April 2011 WikiLeaks began publishing the Guantanamo Files [JURIST report], a collection of more than 700 classified documents relating to the evidence and treatment of almost all detainees held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] between 2002 and 2008. In December 2010, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay criticized [JURIST report] actions by governments and corporations worldwide to cut off funding to WikiLeaks, saying it could violate the website’s rights to free expression.