State Secrets

STATE SECRETS….Yesterday I mentioned that Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped, drugged, flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan, and held for five months ? despite the fact that he was entirely innoncent and was merely the victim of mistaken identity ? had his lawsuit turned down on Thursday after the government asserted the state secrets privilege. Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, comments:

When the government claims the “state secrets privilege,” the courts tend to look no further, and the cases are dismissed. It was invoked only four times in the first 23 years after the U.S. Supreme Court created the privilege in 1953, but now the government is claiming the privilege to dismiss lawsuits at a rate of more than three a year. The Justice Department describes this tactic as an “absolute privilege” ? in effect, a neutron bomb that leaves no plaintiff standing.

But can we trust the government when it tells us that national security is at stake? Should the government’s claim of secrecy result in an immediate, no-questions-asked dismissal? Probably not, given the government’s track record.

….President Reagan’s executive secretary at the National Security Council, career Navy officer Rodney McDaniel, told a blue-ribbon commission looking at classification in 1997 that only 10% of the secrecy stamps were for “legitimate protection of secrets.”

….Erwin Griswold, who as U.S. solicitor general prosecuted the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971, once explained the real motivation behind government secrecy….”It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive overclassification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another,” he wrote.

The Bush administration complains that there are too many leaks of critical government secrets these days. I have two suggestions for reducing this problem: (a) stop breaking the law whenever our backs are turned, and (b) stop classifying every word ever written just because it might cause you some political problems. If you did that, maybe we’d all take your complaints a little more seriously.