Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lift the Veil on US Government Secrecy (State Secrets Privilege)

OUR OPINION: Federal agencies try to cover up with `state secrets privilege'

President Barack Obama came to office vowing to run an open and transparent government. By and large, he's kept that promise, strengthening enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act and making it easier for the public to find out who is visiting the White House to conduct business.

But when it comes to the so-called ``state secrets privilege,'' this administration has been too quick to embrace the policy of its predecessor. The doctrine allows lawyers to invoke this evidentiary rule to quash lawsuits in the name of protecting government secrets.

All too often, however, it has been misused to hide embarrassing mistakes and the over-zealous application of anti-terrorism policies involving torture, kidnapping and violations of privacy.

Recently, in an effort to improve the Obama administration's stance, Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines that restrict the use of the ``state secrets'' doctrine and establish a more rigorous process to determine when and how it should be invoked. This is a step in the right direction, but it's not enough.

Volumes have been written about the lengths that government agencies will go to in order to hide their mistakes, and the state secrets privilege offers a handy and expedient way to avoid accountability.

One of the most egregious instances during the Bush years involved the mistaken identity abduction of a Lebanese-born German citizen named Khaled al-Masri, who claimed he was snatched by the CIA in the Balkans, taken to a secret prison and tortured for months before being released. When he sued, the government said the case should not be tried and the Supreme Court upheld the decision.

Under Mr. Holder's new guidelines, a panel of Justice Department lawyers would screen requests by national security agencies to invoke the state secrets doctrine, presumably with an eye toward avoiding phony claims. The attorney general would have to sign off on all such claims and the government would have to file a classified brief with the court explaining the reasons for its actions.

However, this still leaves it up to the discretion of members of the executive branch to make the decision -- behind closed doors -- without significant input by the courts.

A better solution is for Congress to pass a proposed STATE SECRETS PROTECTION ACT that requires judges to review the evidence instead of taking the government's word that a trial could harm the nation.

That is the best way to protect Americans from abuses committed in the name of national security behind a veil of secrecy.

Miami Herald dot com


Connie L. Nash said...


REPORT from NC Stop Torture Now:

A US Rep. David Price from NC said today that U.S. torture photos should be withheld from the public. Negotiators for the House – with Price as their leader – and the Senate met today about the conference bill to appropriate money for the Department of Homeland Security. They agreed to keep the Senate’s Graham-Lieberman amendment, which allows the Secretary of Defense to certify that hundreds of photos depicting U.S. prisoner abuse should not be released:


The ACLU is pursuing a Freedom of Information Act request for release of the photos, and won a Circuit Court ruling that the photos should be made public.

NC STN asked Rep. Price to use his position to strip the Graham-Lieberman amendment from the bill.

Price’s aide for DHS matters said this afternoon that although he respects FOIA, Rep. Price agreed with the Senate’s position that this rose to the level of an exception, and that release of the photos would help “America’s enemies” whip up campaigns to harm our people, etc. Price chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

When a representative from North Carolina Stop Torture Now brought up how important the release of the Abu Ghraib photos had been, and there was no good answer.

P.S. The aide also said Rep. Price fended off multiple Republican attempts in the bill to tie the Administration’s hands on Gtmo detainees.

Connie L. Nash said...

http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/caltoday.html (video posted on site)

Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties met at 10:00 A.M. in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building
Hearing on: Civil Rights Under Fire – Recent Supreme Court Decisions
By Direction of the Chairman