WASHINGTON, DC - January 29 - The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Oversight heard today from witnesses giving testimony on the state secrets privilege. Historically, the privilege has been used to give the government an opportunity to prevent the disclosure of evidence that would legitimately harm national security. In the hands of the Bush administration, it has been used as an alternative form of immunity that is increasingly being used to shield the government and its agents from accountability for systemic violations of the Constitution. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has introduced legislation in the Senate that would go a long way in narrowing the scope of the privilege.
"This administrationís use of the state secrets privilege has undermined our system of checks and balances," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Not only has our justice system suffered, but real people have had their lives unjustly affected by state secrets assertions. Victims of our governmentís extraordinary rendition and domestic spying programs have had the courthouse door slammed in their faces."
ACLU litigators have challenged the Bush administrationís illegal policies of warrantless surveillance, extraordinary rendition, and torture in the courts, but have increasingly faced government assertions of the state secrets privilege - even before any evidence is produced or requested. The ACLU is urging Congress to exercise its constitutional authority and pass legislation that narrows the state secrets privilege and requires courts to exercise independent judicial review over all government state secrets claims.
"Those who have suffered from our governmentís misconduct deserve their chance at justice," said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel. "Congress has both the power and the obligation to restore these checks and balances. We urge it to pass legislation to reform the state secrets privilege. Our country should not be in the business of denying justice."
For more on the ACLUís work on NSA spying, go to: www.aclu.org/nsaspying
For more on the case of Khaled El-Masri and the ACLU's work on rendition, go to: www.aclu.org/rendition