Washington, DC – As the Senate Judiciary Committee meets today to mark up key legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union urged the body to pass a bill that would allow Americans to hold their government accountable. The bill, introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), would limit the scope of the state secrets privilege. The Bush administration, which has threatened to veto Senator Kennedy’s bill, has used the privilege to halt several important lawsuits against the government, including an ACLU case involving the extraordinary rendition of an innocent German citizen, Khaled El-Masri.
"The administration’s frequent and broad use of the state secrets privilege goes to the very root of its abuse of power," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The privilege has been misused and abused for long enough. Senator Kennedy’s legislation will allow for a court to review the government’s national security claims and will rightly reinstate the role of the judiciary."
Attorney General Michael Mukasey voiced the administration’s opposition to Senator Kennedy’s bill in a letter to the committee last month. In it he made the astonishing claim that the executive branch is virtually unaccountable to the other two branches when it comes to the national security. The ACLU noted his argument is unconstitutional on its face and is urging Congress to exercise its constitutional authority and pass legislation to narrow the state secrets privilege and require courts to exercise independent judicial review over all government state secrets claims.
The ACLU has also been fighting the expanding claims of executive power in the courtroom, bringing legal challenges to the Bush administration’s policies of warrantless surveillance, extraordinary rendition and torture. The administration has frequently invoked the state secrets privilege not to protect sensitive evidence from disclosure, but to stymie entire lawsuits alleging executive misconduct – even before any requests for evidence have been made.
"Barricading the courthouse door with the assertion of state secrets has had a dire effect on the American justice system," said Fredrickson. "Not only has the public been denied the facts about illegal programs, but individuals have been prevented from holding the government accountable for its misconduct. Khaled El-Masri and other victims of extraordinary rendition have been stripped of their freedom and dignity at the hands of our government, and have had their only avenue of recourse completely and conclusively thwarted. The committee should vote Senator Kennedy’s bill out of committee and send it to the floor as soon as possible."To read the ACLU’s letter to the Committee on S. 2533, go to: