Friday, December 19, 2008

Georgetown Journalism Students Sue CIA, FBI Over Daniel Pearl Death Documents

So much news that I almost forgot to post this item from yesterday's Washington Post about another FOIA case against the CIA --and FBI, among eight government agencies named-- to access documents relating to the death of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. Inquiring minds want to know: Why isn't the Wall Street Journal also on this case? I'm not holding my breath for Mssrs. Gigot, McGurn and Taranto... Anyway, here's an excerpt from the Post:
For more than a year, a group of Georgetown University students has been poring over documents, searching for cellphone numbers of suspected terrorists and calling Pakistani police in the middle of the night. Now their class project has come to this: They're suing the CIA and the FBI.

The students' assignment was to find out who killed Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and why. Although the class ended last spring and many of the students graduated, they're still trying to write that last paper.

Pearl disappeared while reporting in Pakistan in 2002. A video delivered to the FBI showed him being beheaded.

Yesterday, the group, known as the Pearl Project and now attached to the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court asking for the release of records by the CIA, FBI, Defense Department and five other federal agencies.

Members of the group are seeking, among other things, FBI files on convicted terrorist Richard Reid. Pearl was reporting a story about Reid and his Pakistani handler when he disappeared. They hope the lawsuit will unearth documents or new sources in time for them to finish their final paper late this spring.

"It's not only a really personal story . . . but a story really pertinent to current events and, well, to humanity," said Rebecca Tapscott, a 2008 graduate.

The idea for the class began in summer 2002, after four men were convicted in Pakistan in connection with Pearl's death. Pearl's longtime friend, Asra Nomani, with whom Pearl was staying when he disappeared, suspected that more people were involved. She knew, for example, that a man who led police to Pearl's body, which was found outside Karachi, was allegedly one of the guards who had held him. But he was never charged.

Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and Barbara Feinman Todd, an associate dean at Georgetown, created a journalism seminar in 2007 to investigate Pearl's death and write the story that he was reporting when he was kidnapped. They also wanted to learn more about terrorist cells, counterterrorism efforts and the complicated relationship between the United States and Pakistan.
More on the Pearl Project can be found at the Center for Public Integrity website.

FOIABlog comments on the case:
This Washington Post article discusses a FOIA lawsuit filed this week by students in a Georgetown University journalism class. The suit is related to records various government agencies have about those involved in the death of Danny Pearl, including shoe bomber, Richard Reid, who Pearl was trying to interview before his kidnapping.

I believe Richard Reid, and others like him, have very limited privacy rights. They are not U.S. Citizens or Legal Permanent Residents, thus they have no rights under the Privacy Act. There is a huge public interest in these records and as such, agencies should not send out letters asking for these people's signatures before they will process records relating to them. This is not a new issue as years ago, the DEA turned down a request by Terry Anderson for information on those who kept him hostage--and didn't relent until Anderson was forced to sue. Hopefully, the new administration will find compentent people to oversee FOIA Offices at these agencies so that the courts are not clogged with these types of matters.