During the past few months I have been actively following the latest activity on the state secrets privilege (SSP). First, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this issue of extreme importance to our civil liberties and constitutional rights was finally getting long-over-due and deserved attention from the media. After all, the memories of fighting SSP in the federal courts all the way up to the Supreme Court, holding press conferences together with the ACLU to bring needed media attention to this draconian abuse, making the rounds in Congress to have them address this ‘privilege’ through legislation to restrict its misuse and abuse, are still fresh and vivid for me.
Then I started detecting some troubling common trends showing up in media reports and subsequently in discussions and statements within Congress. The most suspicious of these came in the form of sanitizing major SSP abuse cases from reports put forth by both the mainstream media and some in alternative publications. The first invocation of the SSP by the Bush Administration was in my case. Back then, if you had done a Google search on ‘state secrets privilege’ you would have come up with only ‘7’ results; three of them repeats. After successfully getting away with SSP invocation in my case, the administration opened the flood gates for others. Now I invite you to search all the archived news reports on SSP in the last year or so. As you will see, in every single report in which the abuses of SSP and its history are cited, you will not find this first case; my case. Further, if you were to look for other major abuses of SSP, such as the Barlow Case, you will find none. The valid cases cited are mainly limited to:
Khalid Al-Masri, Maher Arar, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Binyam Mohamed
With a note here and there on ‘NSA’ related information and the historical Reynold’s Case from 1953.
Finally, I decided to dig further and explore the reasons behind these significant omissions and the accompanying information spin that seems to be packaged with the intention of fulfilling Washington’s objective - seeing the related campaign and activities fail. Of course, based on my own case and experience with SSP, I had my own theories as to why the issue was being narrowed down to certain ‘selected’ cases and interpretations; counterproductive to the objective shared by SSP recipients and organizations who have been truly active in seeking to have it abolished or reformed through congressional legislation. But I was also interested in getting the opinions of those who have been actually involved with these cases, either as plaintiffs or attorneys representing SSP cases, or even a few trusted insiders in Congress with direct knowledge. So I contacted several and include their views and interpretations here.
The Congressional Angle
A well seasoned congressional staff member connected to a well-known ‘Centrist’ office active in the current SSP debate, who ‘insisted’ on being granted anonymity, had the following to say:
“Contrary to what they may claim in order to pacify the recent ‘Anti State Secrets Privilege’ movement, the Congress does not want to deal with this issue. And this applies to members of both parties…of course we will hold a couple of hearings and show we have investigated and reviewed cases...”
He then went on to list several enlightening points regarding the ‘real’ factors driving the current position on SSP:
· We are being told that the president [Obama] will veto any proposed legislation dealing with State Secrets Privilege…that and that no one in Congress really wants to touch this area. Having the press limit the information to ‘War on Terror Suspects’ [Emphasis added] helps both: the President and the reluctant Congress.
· The cases before us are ‘selectively’ [Emphasis added] related to the War on Terror. A few Arab guys with their claims will not bring sympathy from the majority in this country. Not in Iowa, not in Utah…you catch my drift?
· …I am talking about cases where there are no questions of ‘Criminality’ being involved or covered up. We won’t touch those cases. No one will go for that. The reasons…obvious… Being unfair or making the wrong call to determine if someone is a terrorist does not constitute ‘criminal.’ [Emphasis Added]. As for the NSA related case, well, the new legislation took care of that…
· By the way, we don’t expect to see any cases of abuses of SSP by the Clinton Administration cited anywhere. Holder’s office in the background and the majority leaders up on the front lines are ensuring this through the media and the NGOs.
Let me recap what is being said, the reality ‘on the ground’ here:
Like any other president before him, and probably those who’ll come after him, President Obama is not going to limit his presidential powers when it comes to this draconian absolute executive power. He has made it clear to his now the majority party members and they are set to follow his guideline on this. It is a slam dunk position with a guaranteed ‘win’ since the minority in Congress also encourages and backs this position.
Somehow the Executive Branch and the Congress have managed to accomplish their objectives on SSP through the U.S. media. They want the reporting massaged and messaged in such a way that the publicity on SSP is limited to only ‘select’ cases where ‘executive criminality’ and or ‘covering up executive criminality’ will not be an issue. Those SSP cases where the executive branch used this level of secrecy to cover up criminal deeds would make the need for Congressional action on SSP far greater. After all, we even have an Executive Order that currently prohibits secrecy and classification from being used by the Executive Branch in order to conceal violations of law. Of course with the case(s) involving NSA warrantless wiretapping, as quoted by the congressional source above, they no longer have to worry, since they took care of it through retroactive legislation.
With cases involving wrongful detention and abuse of those ‘wrongfully accused’ in the government’s war on terror, it has been set up so that these cases can be written off as ‘egregious labeling, handling and treatment’ committed immediately following the September Eleven Attacks. Excuses such as ‘extraordinary’ circumstances, ‘bureaucratic bungling,’ and the previous administration’s ‘excess’ have been all lined up to be used if or when SSP makes it’s way into Congress. Further, the government also counts on bigotry to insure that there will be no major public pressure, since the involved victims are not (at least most) Americans, have Arabic names, and are of Muslim background. They believe that the majority of Americans will not be sympathetic to these plaintiffs, so there will be no problem killing any chance of restraining the long-abused SSP through meaningful legislation.