Friday, May 19, 2006

The Government's All-Purpose Defense Against Court Cases

The United States is wielding it's trump card--national security--to quash lawsuits against the government more and more often in recent years.

Yesterday, the all-purpose defense again worked it's wonders.

A federal judge yesterday threw out the case of a German citizen who says he was wrongfully imprisoned by the CIA, ruling that Khaled al-Masri's lawsuit poses a "grave risk" of damage to national security by exposing government secrets.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria acknowledged that Masri "has suffered injuries" if his allegations are true and that he "deserves a remedy." Sources have said Masri was held by the CIA for five months in Afghanistan because of mistaken identity. Masri says he was beaten, sodomized and repeatedly questioned about alleged terrorist ties.

But Ellis said the remedy cannot be found in the courts. Masri's "private interests must give way to the national interest in preserving state secrets,'' the judge wrote in dismissing the lawsuit filed last year against former CIA director George J. Tenet and 10 unnamed CIA officials...

The ruling was a victory for Justice Department prosecutors, who had invoked the once rarely cited state-secrets privilege to argue for dismissal. Created in the 1950s, it allows the government to urge courts to dismiss cases on the grounds of damage to foreign policy or national security. The privilege has been used far more frequently since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Judges have usually acceded to the government's request. Last year, for example, the government won dismissal of a lawsuit by a Canadian citizen who claimed that he was taken to Syria by U.S. officials for detention and was tortured.

When defense attorneys in criminal cases attempt to use "graymail" by demanding access to classified documents in the discovery phase of a trial, the government vigorously objects.

When the government does the same thing by invoking the "national security" clause, judges just bend over and toss the case.

<< Home