April 23, 2008 | By Tim Jones

Stopping Abuse of the State Secrets Privilege

Update: A victory! On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the State Secrets Protection Act. Thanks to everyone who contacted their Senator. Stay tuned to Deeplinks for more info as the bill moves through the Senate.

This week presents an opportunity to put a stop to one of the main tactics in the Bush administration's bag of sketchy legal tricks.

The State Secrets Privilege allows the White House to hide evidence of wrongdoing, and even to try to dismiss important lawsuits, with a unilateral claim that "State Secrets" are endangered. This doctrine was adopted by the Supreme Court in the McCarthy era, and was originally meant to be used only in exceptional circumstances. However, since 2001, the Bush Administration has repeatedly abused the Privilege in attempts to cover up potentially embarrassing or illegal activities.

For instance, when the ACLU sued the NSA in 2006, asserting that domestic spying activities were unconstitutional, the Justice Department misused the privilege to keep the court from deciding the case on its merits. And, right now, the Bush administration is trying to do the same thing to the EFF's lawsuit against AT&T and other lawbreaking phone companies.

Now, Congress may finally be ready to act to stop these abuses. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider S.2533, the State Secrets Protection Act, which would bring much-needed judicial supervision that could help eliminate bogus state secrets claims, while carefully protecting legitimate interests in national security.

In the wake of the Act's introduction, there's been important media attention to SSP abuse. National Journal detailed how "the government has shown, time and time again, that it cannot be trusted not to use bogus national security claims to avoid exposure of misconduct or embarrassment." On Friday, The New York Times editorial board asked "Whose Privilege?," writing that the bill "would go a long way toward restoring the balance and the accountability and openness that are essential for a democracy." And this week, The New Yorker published an article discussing the problems states secrets abuse poses for targeted organizations like the Islamic charity Al Haramain.

If one of your Senators is on the Judiciary Committee, then you're uniquely positioned to encourage the Committee to approve this legislation and make a real difference in fighting government secrecy. Contact them now and tell them to support the State Secrets Protection Act.


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