For Immediate Release: February 11, 2009
Washington, DC – Human Rights First strongly supports the State Secret Protection Act of 2009, which was introduced with bi-partisan support in the House today. If enacted, this legislation would encourage independent and meaningful judicial review of government actions while protecting against the unnecessary disclosure of sensitive national security information.
“The need for this legislation is all the more apparent given the Obama administration’s decision this week to stand by the Bush administration’s overly expansive interpretation of the state secrets doctrine,” said Elisa Massimino, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of Human Rights First. “The legislation that’s been proposed would encourage greater transparency and a more appropriate balance of powers on national security matters.”
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 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 in order to assess whether it could be disclosed without undue risk, or whether lawsuits may proceed without it.
“The summary dismissal of lawsuits alleging government misconduct has perpetuated a culture of unchecked power and a complete lack of transparency by the Executive Branch on issues touching on national security,” added Massimino. “It has also undermined the right of individuals to seek and obtain remedies for human rights violations resulting from government misconduct.”