UPDATE, NOV. 18, 10:57 A.M.: "The Court must impose monetary sanctions to deter the Government from deceiving the Court again," Judge Cormac Carney of the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana writes in his Islamic Shura Council v. FBI ruling.
He gave the council 14 days to come up with an affidavit detailing its costs.
"Parties cannot choose when to tell the Court the truth. They must be truthful with the Court at all stages of the proceedings if judicial review is to have any real meaning," Carney wrote.
". . . And the Court rejects the Government's suggestion that it initially had to deceive the Court to protect national security. The Government could have availed itself of routine court procedures without compromising national security."
The Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, which represents six Muslim-American groups, sued the FBI for spying on members of the faith--many of them U.S. citizens. As part of discovery, the council requested access to all government records created since January 2001, including surveillance, monitoring and other investigation documents.
Carney ruled in April that the council could not review some FBI files, but he also berated the Justice Department for denying their very existence. The government had tried to claim admitting the files exist compromises national security.
UPDATE, NOV. 17, 6:08 P.M.: A federal judge ordered sanctions against the U.S. government for failing to provide documents to the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, the Council on American Islamic Relations and several other organizations and individuals in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. "We are very pleased that the court upheld the rule of law by sanctioning the government for lying to the court," Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, says in a statement.
"However, we remain concerned that the government's conduct appears to have arisen from a policy in FOIA cases involving national security that has existed for over twenty years," Arulanantham continued. "We call on the government to state clearly that it will now put an end to this shameful practice."
The policy, which is fully explained in the original post below, was exposed in a lawsuit brought by Muslims in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California spied on by the FBI.
ORIGINAL POST, NOV. 3, 6:10 P.M.: The ACLU, open government groups and members of Congress are applauding today's decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to abandon the legitimization of lying to the American people, which was recently exposed in a lawsuit brought by Muslims in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California who the government has spied on.
The Justice Department had been seeking a federal regulation based on the decades-old policy where officials lied about not having documents when they really did.
The policy was exposed in a lawsuit the ACLU filed on behalf the Muslims (Islamic Shura Council v. FBI). The targeted Muslims--who include Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations office in Anaheim--filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information on the FBI spying on them in 2006. The Justice Department repeatedly responded no such documents existed. Close Weekly readers know the FBI used Irvine informant and convicted felon Craig Monteilh to spy on Muslims at mosques in Irvine, Garden Grove and elsewhere in Southern California.
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It didn't take Judge Cormac Carney of the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana long to find the evidence that showed the government had repeatedly lied about the existence of documents showing it spied on Americans, many with no criminal records at all. The feds then responded they had to lie on national security grounds. Carney disagreed vehemently in his ruling last April.
The judge was not alone in his outrage. OpenTheGovernment.org, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, other open government groups and a bipartisan coalition of congressmen--most notably U.S. Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado), and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Illinois)--have all pressured the Justice Department to withdraw the fucked-up regulation.
While the ACLU applauds the Justice Department for seeming to do the right thing, the group remains weary that the policy of lying to the American public might be resumed some day.
"We're pleased that the Department of Justice intends to refrain from writing this type of deceptive practice into its regulations," says Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director at the ACLU's Southern California office in Los Angeles. "But we're concerned at what we're not hearing: that DOJ won't at some point again try to conceal the truth from citizens and from the courts entrusted with protecting their civil rights. As the Obama Administration should know, our government can only function well when it is transparent."