WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of 21 civil liberties, human rights and electronic privacy organizations filed a request under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act on Monday seeking information about individuals arrested or detained in America after the Sept. 11 attacks.
``We have been deeply disappointed with the government's refusal to respond to our previous inquiries and to release information that would assure the American public that this crucial investigation is being conducted with the basic protections guaranteed by our laws,'' Gregory Nojeim, the associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington national office, said in a statement.
Nearly 1,000 people have been detained since the attacks on the United States, and rights groups say they have had trouble getting information on those held.
``There's been a huge problem of transparency, knowing where these people are and how they're being treated,'' Allyson Collins, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Washington, told Reuters.
``It's hard to get clear-cut numbers,'' said Khalil Jahshan, vice president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Jahshan said it appeared that of the 1,000 arrested, all but 200 or 300 had been released, and another 100 to 150 were still being sought.
The FOIA request, joined by such groups as Amnesty International USA, the American Friends Service Committee and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, asks the U.S. Justice Department to release the names of all those arrested and any charges filed against them.
It also seeks the names of their lawyers and the identities of any courts that have been asked to seal any proceedings in connection with those held.
A 55-year-old Pakistani man who had been arrested in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks died in custody in a New Jersey county jail last Tuesday. Local officials attributed his death to a heart condition.
Human Rights Watch's Collins said her group had written to local and federal officials urging an investigation.
``It's very important that they thoroughly investigate his death and reveal all the facts they learn,'' she said.
U.S. officials gained broader powers on Friday when President Bush signed sweeping new anti-terror legislation. Arab-American and human rights groups expressed concern about the new law on Monday.
``We feel that several provisions attempt to strengthen security at the expense of civil liberties,'' said Jahshan of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
The new law will, among other things, allow the attorney general to hold foreigners considered suspected terrorists for up to seven days before charging them with a crime or beginning deportation proceedings.
``As an immigrant community, we are very sensitive to treatment of immigrants because they are the most vulnerable segment of society,'' Jahshan said. ``This will impact those who are not yet American citizens.''