Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Governments and Secret Evidence: an Unholy, Unconstitutional Alliance?

This well-researched story in this month's Washington Lawyer magazine stunned me:

[Khaled] El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, was on vacation on New Year’s Eve 2003 in Macedonia when he was seized at a border crossing, tortured, and then flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan. He remained in a squalid cell for five months before his captors, realizing they had the wrong man, flew him to Albania and dumped him on a roadside, convinced no one would believe the story El-Masri would tell.

Want to guess who did this? It's the CIA. Under Dick Cheney, the CIA seems to have had no limits.

Mr. El-Masri sued, but the George W. Bush administration invoked the state secrets privilege--a presidential power intended to prevent public disclosure of classified information--to dismiss the lawsuit.

One judge has pushed back. See Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc:

Judge Michael D. Hawkins said dismissing cases because the government alleges secrets are involved would “cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from demands and limits to the law.” The government’s argument has “no logical limit,” Hawkins wrote.

God bless judges that understand the judicial branch should check and limit unconstitutional use of executive power. The executive branch was never intended to be a dictatorship shielded from scrutiny. Whenever any government agency tries to hide information, my alarm bells go off. Right now, there's a five-alarm fire somewhere, and my taxpayer dollars are funding it.

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