ACLU Lauds Introduction of House State Secrets Bill

March 13, 2008 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – Legislation introduced today may give a much-needed reprieve to those who have sued the government and encountered the state secrets privilege. The legislation, introduced by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would establish appropriate limits on the use of the state secrets privilege. The Bush administration has misused the privilege to halt several important lawsuits against the government, including an ACLU case involving the extraordinary rendition of an innocent German citizen, Khaled El-Masri. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

“This administration has abused the state secrets privilege to the point that it is now synonymous with ‘no comment,’” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Congressman Nadler’s legislation will reinstate the role of the judiciary as a check against abuse of power as it will require a court to more closely examine the government’s national security claims for legitimacy. We can’t allow our president’s actions to go consistently unchallenged when there is evidence of government misconduct, simply because the government invokes ‘state secrets.’”

ACLU litigators have opposed the Bush administration’s illegal policies of warrantless surveillance, extraordinary rendition and torture in the courts. The administration has frequently invoked the state secrets privilege, not to protect sensitive evidence from disclosure, but to stymie entire lawsuits alleging executive misconduct – even before any requests for evidence have been made. The ACLU is urging Congress to exercise its constitutional authority and pass legislation to narrow the state secrets privilege and require courts to exercise independent judicial review over all government state secrets claims.

“This bill could open the courthouse doors for those who’ve suffered legitimate harm at the hands of our government,” said Fredrickson. “People may not understand that many of the cases shut down by the state secrets privilege have a true and human cost. By tailoring the law to guard against abuse, this fix to the state secrets privilege could have a true and human reward. We urge the House Judiciary Committee to pass this legislation and to send it to the floor for a vote without delay.”

To read more about the ACLU’s work on NSA spying, go to:
www.aclu.org/nsaspying

To read more about the case of Khaled El-Masri, go to:
www.aclu.org/rendition

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