State Secrets

The Supreme Court has terminated a lawsuit that alleges the CIA kidnapped and tortured a German man in a case of mistaken identity. The facts of the case are actually not as interesting as the grounds for its dismissal. The Bush Administration argues that allowed the suit to proceed would risk the exposure of important national secrets. There is legal precedent for this argument:

The state secrets privilege arose from a 1953 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the executive branch to keep secret, even from the court, details about a military plane's fatal crash.

Three widows sued to get the accident report after their husbands died aboard a B-29 bomber, but the Air Force refused to release it claiming that the plane was on a secret mission to test new equipment. The high court accepted the argument, but when the report was released decades later there was nothing in it about a secret mission or equipment.

This appears to be a legal principle that is, quite literally, built on lies. There was nothing to protect in the 1953 case. The government simply made up a story that was not true.

Whether the case at hand has any merit, I don't know. That's why we have courts - courts that are quite capable of protecting sensitive information from public view when necessary. It would be nice if we could simply trust the Bush Administration not to use this privilege to hide its crimes and mistakes. Any takers?

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