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Monday, April 16, 2007

Two FOI stories on Iraq with different outcomes

When the Daily Telegraph sought access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act, about compensation payments made to Iraqi civilians as a result of accidents or negligence by Australian forces, it received some details about payments totaling $260,000. But the documents were heavily censored.

The story as reported widely in News Limited publications around the country, was about a lack of transparency. Labor Defence spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, said "there should be more transparency. The taxpayers are entitled to know who they are paying, how much they are paying and what they are paying for".

However this week when the New York Times and other papers reported on documents released to the American Civil Liberties Union under the US Freedom of Information Act about the thousands of claims submitted by Iraqi and Afghan civilians for compensation, it described the documents as providing "unusually detailed accounts of how bystanders to the conflicts have become targets of American forces grappling to identify who is friend, who is foe".

Neither FOI application resulted in disclosure of the identity of claimants, and all we have from the Daily Telegraph is the summary of claims, but it looks like the amount of information released in the US was significantly more detailed than that released in Australia.

The ACLU is contesting a decision to deny access to some documents. Maybe the Daily Telegraph should consider doing the same.

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