A Georgetown group investigating the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl has recently filed suit against several government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, to obtain documents relating to Pearl’s death.

The approximately 30 students and former student members of the Pearl Project have spent over a year trying to determine who killed Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. Four men were convicted in 2002 in Pakistan for his death, but Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, has also confessed to Pearl’s killing. A video of the murder does not show the face of the killer or others present. At the time, other suspects remained at large.

As part of the investigation, the Pearl Project filed Freedom of Information Act requests with eight federal agencies, requesting documents pertaining to the case and to key suspects. However, all eight agencies have, according to the lawsuit, refused to grant access to the documents for a variety of reasons.

“The problems we’ve run into are procedural at the moment,” said Brad Moss, an attorney handling the case for the Pearl Project.

In several instances described in the lawsuit, agencies have failed to respond to FOIA requests within the 20 working-day period prescribed by the law. On another occasion, the FBI refused to release documents on Mohammed and Richard Reid, a convicted terrorist, until the two, who are in U.S. custody, signed privacy waivers. Moss said that FOIA does not require privacy waivers for foreign nationals, and that the public’s interest outweighs the suspects’ right to privacy in this case.

The FBI also refused to release Pearl’s case file, indicating that the case was still open.

“When does this stop being open?” Moss said. “This is becoming Jimmy Hoffa-esque.”

In addition to the FBI, the lawsuit names the Departments of Defense, State and Treasury, and the U.S. Central Command as failing to comply.

Four of the lawsuit’s 13 counts allege that agencies performed inadequate searches for the requested documents.

oss said that agencies may, in some cases, have legitimate reasons for withholding documents, but that the departments have not taken the proper steps to prove that exceptions exist.

“I feel pretty confident that we’ll get beyond this initial procedural background,” Moss said.

Once all defendants have been served, they have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. Department of Justice Civil Division Spokesperson Charles Miller said that his department was served this week.

“We are reviewing at this stage and will ultimately file our response in court,” Miller said. “[There is] no timetable for that at this stage.”

CIA spokesperson Marie Harf declined to comment on the specifics of the case. Sophie Gainey of the Defense Intelligence Agency also declined to comment, citing departmental policy of not commenting on matters under litigation. The other agencies named in the suit – the Departments of Defense, State and Treasury, U.S. Central Command and the FBI – did not return requests for comment.

Rebecca Tapscott (SFS ’08), a member of the Pearl Project, said that the requested documents could shed new light on Pearl’s death. The documents, she said, could identify new suspects or divulge previously unknown details about the case, giving the investigators fresh leads.

“Government documents are essential in that they are taken very seriously as accurate. They’re considered proof,” Tapscott said.

Erin Delmore (COL ’08), another member of the project, said the lawsuit is essential to the investigation. She also said she was optimistic that the case would be resolved in the project’s favor.

“I think that we’re standing on solid ground,” she said. “I think we have a good chance of winning.”

The Pearl Project began as a seminar in the School of Continuing Studies in 2007 and has now become affiliated with the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity

After research done by the Pearl Project, former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani said in a Washington Post article that they have narrowed down the suspect list.

“We have been able to establish cells beyond the four men that were convicted, been able to establish the identities of suspects that are walking the streets,” Nomani said in the Washington Post. “I really do believe that we can identify the murderers.”

SCS Associate Dean Barbara Feinman Todd, who heads the Pearl Project along with Nomani and is named as the lead plaintiff in the suit, declined to comment for this report.

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