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SPJ joins amicus brief in Hamdan v. Department of Justice case


Nov. 18, 2015

Paul Fletcher, SPJ National President, 804-873-1893,
Maggie LaMar, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785,

INDIANAPOLIS-- The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Hamdan v. Department of Justice.

The case involves a FOIA request by Naji Jawdat Hamdan, a U.S. citizen and resident of Lebanon who was detained and tortured by the United Arab Emirates. Hamdan requested documents from the FBI related to any U.S. role in his detention and torture. In the ensuing FOIA litigation, a federal district court in California granted summary judgment to the government, and a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the bulk of that ruling.

The ACLU, which represents Hamdan, is seeking to have the case reheard by the full Court of Appeals. The amicus brief supports Hamdan and the ACLU, and the purpose of the brief is to address one particular issue in the case: the level of deference that the court gave to the FBI’s assertion that the records sought are exempt from FOIA based on national security concerns.

“FOIA requests play an important role in government transparency. Allowing the FBI to use national security to defend their decision to deny Hamdan’s request would set an unfortunate precedent for other departments,” said SPJ president Paul Fletcher. “SPJ supports Hamdan and his right to request information about his detention and torture.”

In ruling for the government, the court essentially rubber-stamped the FBI’s claim that the records cannot be released because they are classified. The brief explains that, in actuality, courts must closely scrutinize agencies’ classification claims, especially in light of the growing problem of over-classification. The brief explains that such judicial scrutiny is required by the plain language of FOIA and by the statute’s legislative history.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit


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