ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Review Case of FBI Whistleblower

August 4, 2005 12:00 am

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Vanity Fair Profile Reveals New Facts About FBI’s Termination of Former Translator Sibel Edmonds


Sibel Edmonds addressed the press in Washington, D.C.

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court’s dismissal of the case of Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator who was fired in retaliation for reporting security breaches and possible espionage within the Bureau. Lower courts dismissed the case when former Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the rarely used “state secrets” privilege.

The Court created the so-called state secrets privilege more than 50 years ago but has not considered it since. The need for clarification of the doctrine is acute, the ACLU said, because the government is increasingly using the privilege to cover up its own wrongdoing and to keep legitimate cases out of court.

“Edmonds’ case is not an isolated incident,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson. “The federal government is routinely retaliating against government employees who uncover weaknesses in our ability to prevent terrorist attacks or protect public safety.”

The states secrets privilege, Beeson said, “should be used a shield for sensitive evidence, not a sword the government can use at will to cut off argument in a case before the evidence can be presented. We are urging the Supreme Court, which has not directly addressed this issue in 50 years, to rein in the government’s misuse of this privilege.”

The ACLU is also asking the Supreme Court to reverse the D.C. appeals court’s decision to exclude the press and public from the court hearing of Edmonds’ case in April. The appeals court closed the hearing at the eleventh hour without any specific findings that secrecy was necessary. In fact, the government had agreed to argue the case in public. A media consortium that included The New York Times , The Washington Post , and CNN intervened in the case to object to the closure.

Edmonds, a former Middle Eastern language specialist hired by the FBI shortly after 9/11, was fired in 2002 and filed a lawsuit later that year challenging the retaliatory dismissal.

Her ordeal is highlighted in a 10-page article about whistleblowers in the September 2005 issue of Vanity Fair which links Edmonds’ allegations and the subsequent retaliation to possible “illicit activity involving Turkish nationals” and a high-level member of Congress. The ACLU said the article, titled “An Inconvenient Patriot,” further undercuts the government’s claim that the case can’t be litigated because certain information is secret.

In addition, a report by the Inspector General, made public in January 2005, contains a tremendous amount of detail about Edmonds’ job, the structure of the FBI translation unit , and the substance of her allegations. The report concluded that Edmonds’ whistleblower allegations were “the most significant factor” in the FBI’s decision to terminate her.

The outcome in Edmonds’ case could significantly impact the government’s ability to rely on secrecy to avoid accountability in future cases, the ACLU said, including one pending case charging the government with “rendering” detainees to be tortured.

In the 1953 Supreme Court case that was the basis for today’s state secrets privilege doctrine, United States v. Reynolds, the government claimed that disclosing a military flight accident report would jeopardize secret military equipment and harm national security. Nearly 50 years later, in 2004, the truth came out: the accident report contained no state secrets, but instead confirmed that the cause of the crash was faulty maintenance of the B-29 fleet.

Fourteen 9/11 family member advocacy groups and public interest organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Edmonds ‘ case before the District Court, and many are expected to join an amicus brief next month supporting Supreme Court review of the case, including the National Security Archive.

Edmonds is represented by Beeson, Melissa Goodman, and Ben Wizner of the national ACLU; Art Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area; and Mark Zaid, of Krieger and Zaid, PLLC.

The ACLU’s Supreme Court cert petition is online at: /node/36343

The appendix for the Supreme Court cert petition is online at: /node/36347

Further information on the case, including other legal documents and a backgrounder on the state secrets privilege, is online at :

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