The U.S. Supreme Court is allowing the Bush administration to keep secret the names of hundreds of foreigners arrested following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.
Without comment, the nation's highest court let stand a U.S. appeals court ruling that disclosing the identities of foreign detainees could compromise national security.
The court refused to hear an appeal by civil rights and media groups that argued withholding the names violates the right to freedom of speech in the U.S. constitution.
Attorneys for the groups also say the secret arrests and detentions are illegal under the Freedom of Information Act.
An estimated 700 foreigners, mostly Arabs and Muslims, were arrested in the United States in the months after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people. Many of those detainees have been deported or released.
Attorneys for the groups that sponsored the appeal expressed disappointment at the Supreme Court's decision. The Director of the Center for National Security Studies, Kate Martin, said failing to release the names of the detainees "maintains the fiction that the government was going after terrorists when it instead was rounding up hundreds of innocent Arabs and Muslims."
Attorney General John Ashcroft called the decision a victory and stressed the Bush administration is committed to maintaining appropriate civil rights protections in the United States.
Lawyers for the Justice Department say disclosing the names of the detainees would harm the investigation into the terror attacks and could expose those identified to intimidation that could destroy any intelligence value they may have.
Although the Supreme Court refused to hear this appeal, the justices have agreed to hear other cases relating to the war on terror.
One case involves the president's power to detain American citizens captured overseas and declaring them to be "enemy combatants." Another will decide if foreign nationals can use American courts to challenge their incarceration at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.