NEW YORK, Feb. 2 -- The CIA must give civil rights groups sensitive internal files containing information about detainee abuse, a federal judge said in an opinion issued Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein refused to suspend an earlier order that the CIA comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups made in October 2003 and May 2004. The FOIA allows citizens access to public federal records.
The CIA asked Hellerstein to suspend his order with respect to documents it said were "operational" files that can be exempt from FOIA requests. Such files contain information that can document how foreign intelligence or counterintelligence is conducted.
The judge said the CIA had asked him to apply a law that allows the agency's director to exempt certain files from FOIA requests. However, the judge said the act does not grant the CIA an automatic exemption.
He ruled that the CIA director did not explicitly claim an exemption for specifically categorized files, as required.
"I decline to find that its operational files warrant any protection from the requirements of FOIA," Hellerstein said.
There was no immediate word from government lawyers on whether the CIA would appeal.
The ACLU and other groups sued various government agencies for what they said was the illegal withholding of records about U.S. military abuse of prisoners held in Iraq, the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and other locations.