For six years, the ACLU has used the Freedom of Information Act and lawsuits to fight for what the New York Times called the most successful release of government documents in the history of public disclosure, with 130,000 pages of previously secret documents released to date. The documents have produced many revelations, including battles between the FBI and military over the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay; autopsy reports on prisoners who died in custody in Afghanistan and Iraq; the Justice Department’s long-secret memorandums justifying harsh interrogation, and day-by-day descriptions of what happened inside the CIA’s overseas prisons.
“This is certainly a landmark case in every respect, including in the history of the Freedom of Information Act,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists and an expert on the act. But Mr. Aftergood said the case also illustrated how costly litigation was often necessary to unearth documents the government preferred to protect. “The law gives you standing to fight,” he said. “It doesn’t guarantee victory.”