Rights Group Welcomes State Secret Reforms, Says Legislation Still Needed

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brenda Bowser Soder
bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org
O -202/370-3323, C – 301/906-4460

Rights Group Welcomes State Secret Reforms, Says Legislation Still Needed

WASHINGTON - Today, the Obama Administration is expected to implement a new
policy to rightfully require a higher standard of proof and more
extensive internal review before the government asserts the state
secrets privilege to protect sensitive national security information.
Human Rights First welcomes the expected policy change as an important
step forward, and urges Congress to codify reforms in legislation and
ensure proper judicial review of executive branch decision-making in
this area.

“The administration’s policy reform is a welcomed improvement and
will help to ensure that the state secrets privilege is not abused. Now
Congress must do its part and act on pending legislation to ensure an
appropriate balance of powers on national security matters,” said Devon
Chaffee, counsel for Human Rights First. “Legislation is needed to
mandate greater transparency and to restore the proper role of the
courts as a check on executive power— not only for this administration,
but for future administrations.”

The states secret privilege is a common-law rule that allows the
government to block the discovery of information when it believes
disclosure would harm national security.  Since September 11, 2001, the
government has invoked the state secrets privilege in cases challenging
extraordinary rendition, torture and warrantless domestic surveillance
- seeking dismissals of these lawsuits at the pleadings stage before
any evidence is requested or produced.  Many courts have accepted the
government’s claims of risk to national security without independently
reviewing the information itself in order to assess whether the
information could be disclosed without undue risk, or whether lawsuits
may proceed without it.

Human Rights First has maintained that this practice has perpetuated
a culture of unchecked executive power on national security and
undermined the right of individuals to seek and obtain remedies for
human rights violations resulting from government misconduct. To
address this concern, the group has voiced support for pending
legislation that would require courts to independently examine the
information for which the government asserts a privilege and decide
whether disclosure of the information would pose an unreasonable risk
to national security. In February, Human Rights First sent a letter in support of the House and Senate versions of the State Secret Act.

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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