Reporters are taking legal action to force a U.S. District Court to publicly disclose secret documents that are believed to provide new details about payments made to terrorists by the Palestinian government, according to court documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Lawyers have been fighting for months to force a U.S. District Court in New York to unseal scores of documents and testimony that allegedly detail how the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has been paying salaries to convicted terrorists.
The sealed documents were submitted to the court as part of a 2004 lawsuit brought by terrorism victims seeking damages from the PLO as a result of their attacks on Israel.
The victims’ lawyers have argued for months that the documents in question play a critical role in establishing the PLO’s culpability and should be released to the public.
However, Judge George B. Daniels has rejected this request on the basis that the documents may reveal personal information about purported terrorists and potentially "undermine" the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) interests, according to court documents.
As the case drags on, several reporters filed a motion on Monday to intervene in the case and force the court to unseal the sealed documents.
Investigative reporters Sharyl Attkisson, Steve Emerson, and Edwin Black jointly filed the motion announcing their intent to pursue intervention in the case with a motion meant to compel the "unsealing [of] certain judicial documents," according to court documents obtained by the Free Beacon.
Attkisson is a former CBS reporter who has said she faced a backlash from the Obama administration for her stories, Emerson is an author and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), and Black is an author and columnist known for his exposés on Palestinian terrorism against Israel.
The reporters assert in multiple briefs that the public has a right to see the court documents detailing the Palestinian government’s alleged financial support of terrorists.
"We’re confident that the court will take this motion very seriously because it’s based on well-established constitutional law," Ronald Coleman, a lawyer representing the reporters told the Free Beacon on Tuesday. "The legal standards mandating public access to public judicial proceedings are applied strictly in matters of public concern. And this litigation is certainly such a case."
In March, lawyers from the firm Miller and Chevalier, which is representing the PLO and PA against the terrorism charges, moved to put 57 documents and 51 pages of testimony under court seal.
They argued that public revelation of the evidence could compromise "law enforcement" interests and disclose "private third-party information," according to court documents.
The lawyers representing the terror victims countered that the documents in question are critical and that "limited redactions" could effectively ensure that personal information is protected.
"The Court should not permit defendants to hide the overwhelming evidence of their deep involvement in a relentless terrorism campaign," the plaintiff’s lawyer Kent Yalowitz wrote in a partially redacted March 27 letter to Judge Daniels.
Much of the information being kept secret is said to reveal employment records for Palestinian security officials who are on the government’s official payroll as a result of terror acts they carried out, according to court testimony.
Others reveal how much money the PLO and PA are paying "convicted terrorists on a month-by-month basis," Yalowitz explained during an April court hearing about the order to seal the documents.
Some of the other sealed documents that the defense maintains is privileged include information relating to "suicide terrorists," details of promotions given to suspected terrorists, and certain arrest records, court documents show.
The information, Yalowitz maintained, goes "to the merits of defendants’ liability in this case" and proves that the PLO and PA’s "support of terrorism."
While the Palestinian government’s lawyers maintain that "the specific amount of each payment" to alleged terrorists "reflects private information" that should not be publicly disclosed, Yalowitz maintains that the law does not allow for this.
"The fact that defendants pay generous salaries to convicted terrorists is not confidential," Yalowitz wrote in his letter.
The court ultimately rejected these arguments and sided with the Palestinian government’s request to seal the documents and keep them from public view.
The decision to keep the information private is what prompted Monday’s action by Attkisson, Emerson, and Black calling for intervention in the case.
The reporters maintain that "there is no legal basis for maintaining a cloak of secrecy over the contents of public filings in this litigation to which the press and public are presumptively entitled access," according to court filings made this week on their behalf.
They claim that given the case’s global implications, the public has a right to view the information under seal.
"Given the nature of the litigation and the documents involved, there is substantial reason to believe that the information thus freed from improper occlusion would reveal an unlawful, pernicious, and murderous system established and organized by the defendant to reward or ‘compensate’ the families of suicide bombers and other self-styled Palestinian ‘martyrs,’" they write in their memorandum to the court.
Past reports issued by the Israeli government and others have revealed that Palestinian terrorists can receive monthly stipends of up to $3,500 and grants of up to $25,000.