Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Opacity Is the Mother of Mendacity 

What ho! Here's a piece of legislation that we are only too happy to endorse, and we'll bet you one dollar American that Sibel Edmonds would be willing to join us:
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) has introduced a bill to prevent the administration from abusing its all-powerful state secrets privilege. Based on the 1953 Supreme Court ruling in Reynolds v. United States, the state secrets privilege allows the executive branch to declare certain materials or topics completely exempt from disclosure or review by anybody.

The state secrets privilege, rarely used by past presidents, has already been invoked 24 times by the Bush administration, more than any other administration over a six-year period, according to studies conducted by University of Texas-El Paso and the National Security Archive at George Washington University. In just five and a half years, the Bush administration has used this privilege almost half the number of times it was invoked between 1953 and 2001, when the combined use of 8 presidents -- Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush and Clinton - amounted to 55 claims of state secrets. While in the past the power was used to keep specific documents from disclosure, recently the privilege appears to be invoked to deflect lawsuits against the government. It is a trend that has many concerned, including Shays.

As reported by The New York Times, the administration recently used the state secrets privilege to compel the courts to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a German man who had been held in Afghanistan for five months after being mistaken for a suspected terrorist with the same name. Khaled el-Masri, filed suit against George Tenet, the then-head of the Central Intelligence Agency and ten unnamed agency employees, challenging the CIA's practice of abducting foreign nationals for detention and interrogation in secret prisons overseas.

Additionally, the Justice Department has asked the courts to throw out three lawsuits against the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic spying program . . . .

''If the very people you're suing are the ones who get to use the state secrets privilege, it's a stacked deck,'' said Shays, who has long been a proponent of limiting government secrecy.

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