AP Seeks to Unlock Memo of American Taliban

The Associated Press on Tuesday asked a federal appeals court to reconsider its finding that a petition filed by U.S.-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh seeking a reduction in his prison sentence can remain secret.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month rejected the news agency's request for any commutation petitions filed by Lindh, who is serving 20 years in prison for aiding terrorists. The court agreed with a lower court that Lindh's privacy interests outweigh any public interest served by releasing the information.

The AP asked that the original panel reconsider its finding or that the full appeals court hear its Freedom of Information Act request. It said the petition was "a firsthand account of government actions and a critique of their fairness, the release of which would illuminate past government conduct."

The AP argued the case could prove vital to the Freedom of Information Act because the appeals panel's ruling "substantially expands the range of information about government conduct that can be withheld from the public."

For instance, the AP noted, the ruling allows for the mere presence of personal information to justify withholding an entire petition.

"The decision in this case significantly alters the statutory balance between privacy and disclosure in a manner that undermines FOIA's very purpose -- to inform citizens about `what their government is up to,"' the AP argued.

Lindh was captured in November 2001 in the U.S.-led invasion to overthrow the Taliban. He was sentenced in 2002 after he admitted aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The government has said it could only release documents with Lindh's written consent. Lindh is barred by his plea agreement from publicly commenting on the matter.

Government lawyers had no comment, spokeswoman Yusill Scribner said.

Dave Tomlin, the AP's associate general counsel, said: "We really hope the court will be willing to go back and take another look at this. We think there are some points they didn't consider closely enough."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us