Judge sanctions FBI for withholding files in Muslim surveillance

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney sanctioned Justice Department lawyers and ordered the FBI to pay monetary sanctions over the government lying about its surveillance of SoCal Muslim groups. The ruling "could have wide-reaching implications on the federal judiciary's role in U.S. terrorism investigations," says a story in today's L.A. Daily Journal.

Lawyers for the FBI initially told Carney their agency produced all documents responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request, but later acknowledged certain documents were withheld for national security reasons.

In his ruling, Carney wrote the FBI need not produce such documents, but condemned its 20-year old policy - brought to light over two years of litigation in his courtroom - of deliberately lying to judges under the rubric of protecting national security interests. The FBI can file sensitive documents under seal, but cannot unilaterally override the judiciary branch's oversight role on FOIA requests by lying to the court, the judge ruled.

"Parties cannot choose when to tell the court the truth," Carney wrote. "They must be truthful with the court at all stages of the proceeding if judicial review is to have any real meaning...."

The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California in 2007 on behalf of six Muslim-American community groups and five community leaders including the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Southern California and other groups who filed a FOIA request seeking information concerning any FBI surveillance of themselves.

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