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December 19, 2012

FOIA suit sheds light on Navy investigation

A #FOIA lawsuit by an enterprising #journalist has shed light on an extensive Pentagon investigation into misconduct allegations against a Navy captain.

Responding to a FOIA request filed by reporter William McMichael, the U.S. Strategic Command had refused to either confirm or deny it even had records concerning an Office of Inspector General investigation into the allegedly abusive command climate created by Capt. William Power. Power served as director of logistics for the U.S. Strategic Command between October 2008 and March 2010.

But in an 11-page decision, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer said Pentagon officials were wrong to simply blow off McMichael's request. Stated Collyer:

"Mr. McMichael’s asserted public interest is significant and...the information he seeks is likely to advance this interest....balancing Captain Power’s diminished expectation of privacy against the public’s interest in knowing whether the IG investigated allegations of misconduct, it must be concluded that the public interest prevails."

While the report is still not public, officials will have to perform a more careful analysis to see what could be released. There's certainly a lot of paper there. Through McMichael's reporting, Collyer recounted that one "USSTRATCOM employee reported that the investigation generated over 1,000 pages of testimony" and that "a different USSTRATCOM employee informed Mr. McMichael that the investigation included an estimated 30 witnesses and lasted more than eight months but closed with no action taken."

McMichael was with Navy Times at the time of his 2011 request; he is now with the News Journal in Wilmington, Del.


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While the report is still not public, officials will have to perform a more careful analysis to see what could be released.


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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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