A federal judge ordered sanctions against the United States 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 (FOIA). The request was made after several prominent Muslim community leaders became concerned that the FBI had monitored them merely for practicing their religion.
“We are very pleased that the court upheld the rule of law by sanctioning the government for lying to the court,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. “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. We call on the government to state clearly that it will now put an end to this shameful practice.”
“The Court's decision is an important victory for our values of accountability, open government and due process,” said CAIR-LA Deputy Executive Director and Staff Attorney Ameena Mirza Qazi. “We hope that this significant decision will help right many of the wrongs that were committed under the guise of national security against law-abiding Americans and institutions.”
In May 2006, 11 Muslim American leaders and community groups filed a joint FOIA request to the FBI for all records concerning the agency’s surveillance and investigations of themselves or their groups since January 2001. None of the individuals has ever been charged or convicted of any crime. They hoped to shed light on practices implemented by federal agents to spy on mosques. In 2007, after receiving very few documents in response to the request, many of which were heavily redacted, the ACLU of Southern California filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the groups, claiming the government’s incomplete response to the request violated the Freedom of Information Act.
During the ensuing litigation, the government deliberately told both the plaintiffs and the court that it had provided all of the requested information, when in fact it had not done so. When the court discovered this, the government argued that the misinformation was necessary because divulging even that it had the requested information in its possession would have jeopardized national security.
The federal court found that decision to be sanctionable under longstanding principles requiring parties to be truthful in court, and ordered the government to pay a financial penalty.
”We applaud the Court for restraining the government and upholding the Bill of Rights,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.
The case is Islamic Shura Council of Southern California vs. Federal Bureau of Investigation.