updated 9/15/2004 5:55:36 PM ET 2004-09-15T21:55:36

Suggesting the government was acting as if it had something to hide, a federal judge Wednesday gave Washington one month to release records related to the treatment of prisoners in Iraq.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein chastised officials for moving at a “glacial pace” in responding to nearly year-old Freedom of Information Act requests from the American Civil Liberties Union and four other watchdog organizations.

“If the documents are more of an embarrassment than a secret, the public should know of our government’s treatment of individuals captured and held abroad,” Hellerstein wrote. “We are a nation that strives to value the dignity of all humanity.”

The groups brought a lawsuit in June, saying they wanted to expose the treatment of prisoners.

Hellerstein said though the government had raised “important issues” of national security as a reason for the delays, “merely raising national security concerns cannot justify unlimited delay.”

Megan L. Gaffney, a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors in New York, declined to comment.

Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer, was heartened by the action.

“Increasingly, the administration’s response to requests has been to stonewall or delay as long as possible until documents are forced out of them by a court,” he said.

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