New York Times Sues DOJ Under FOIA for Immigration Court Decision in Salvadoran Death Squad Case

New York Times Sues DOJ Under FOIA for Immigration Court Decision in Salvadoran Death Squad Case

"New York Times reporter Julia Preston sued the Department of Justice for records on retired Salvadoran Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, who led the National Guard and Defense Ministry while death squads murdered tens of thousands of people.  He has been denied relief from removal from the United States.  Preston and the Times challenged the Justice Department's refusal to release records from Vides Casanova's immigration hearings, in a federal FOIA complaint. ... After Vides' removal hearing, Immigration Judge James Grim issued a written decision, in February 2012.  Preston believes the decision hinged, in part, on whether Vides had "'committed, ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated' in certain human rights violations, to wit, torture or extrajudicial killing."  Preston says the written decision "was an exhaustive examination of the testimonial and documentary evidence that had been presented in a public proceeding ... the most comprehensive legal assessment of General Vides's role in human rights abuses to date."  Testimony included statements from two torture survivors, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, a former deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy, and thousands of pages of documents.  Judge Grim issued a second written decision in August 2012, in which he "denied all of General Vides's requests for relief from removal," the Times says in the complaint.  It says Grim allowed the public to attend the first 7-day removal hearing.  Preston and the Times asked for the February and August decisions in a Sept. 28, 2012 FOIA request. The Justice Department denied them, claiming "that because the decisions were 'preliminary' and The Times was a 'third-party requester' and had not obtained General Vides's authorization, The Times was not entitled to the two decisions" to protect Vides's privacy.  The Times appealed on Nov. 7, and the Justice Department denied the appeal on Jan. 3 this year, though this time "DOJ did not make the same argument that the decisions were somehow not final."  The Times told the Justice Department and the Executive Office of Immigration Review by letter on Feb. 14 that withholding the two decisions "was contrary to the First Amendment and common law rights of access."  The Justice Department has not responded to these letters "in any way."  "The public has a particular interest in monitoring General Vides's case given his alleged history of participating in torture, extrajudicial killing and other human rights violations, especially in light of his long-term stay in the United States despite these accusations," the complaint states." - Courthouse News Service, Apr. 3, 2013.