Secret Trials: UK Holds A Secret Terror Trial, As US Appeals Court Holds Secret Hearing In Terror Case
from the open-justice dept
To have a functioning judiciary in an open democracy, part of the point is to make sure that court proceedings are open to the public. Yes, there may be certain instances where certain aspects must be kept secret, but the default should be open and public. Unfortunately, in both the US and UK this week, it appears that when it comes to the bogeyman word “terrorism,” courts are willing to go dark. The more serious situation is over in the UK, where it has just come out that a secret terrorism trial is being held — the first one in centuries. Even the names of the two defendants are not known (they’re listed as merely AB and CD). Journalists had even been barred from mentioning the existence of the trial, until a gag order was just overturned. Note that the Guardian’s page linked above had to turn off comments for legal reasons. Journalist Tim Cook has also spoken out eloquently about why this cannot stand.
I cannot say how broken-hearted I am about the prospect of a major criminal trial involving two men charged with serious terrorism offences being held entirely in secret for the first time in modern British legal history. I have spent my entire journalistic life campaigning against courtroom secrecy and this represents a nadir and indication of abject failure.
But the proposal is being contested by the process of law; albeit very limited and garrotted by the lack of a constitutional paradigm for freedom of the media and expression. We have been paying the price for not having a First Amendment for many years. Now we are entering the endgame of something beyond the dissolution of open justice.
Meanwhile, back here in the good, old United States, where we do have a First Amendment, at least we know that Adel Daoud is on trial. But the 7th Circuit Court of appeals kicked everyone out of the courtroom to hold a “secret hearing” with just the DOJ. As we wrote a few months ago, Daoud’s lawyers are asking to actually see the FISA court orders that were used to gather evidence against their client — and the DOJ is flipping out about that. While some of the hearings were held openly, at one point, Judge Richard Posner abruptly kicked everyone but the DOJ out, including Daoud’s lawyers.
As the arguments concluded, Judge Richard Posner announced the public portion of the proceedings had concluded and ordered the stately courtroom cleared so the three-judge panel could hold a “secret hearing.” Daoud’s attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, rose to object, but Posner did not acknowledge him. Deputy U.S. marshals then ordered everyone out – including Durkin, his co-counsel and reporters.
Only those with the proper security clearance — including U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, his first assistant, Gary Shapiro, and about a dozen FBI and U.S. Department of Justice officials – were allowed back in the courtroom before it was locked for the secret session.
Some reporters tried to ask what was going on, but Posner simply told them “No!” and kicked them out. Daoud’s lawyer was similarly perplexed:
“Not only do I not get to be there, but I didn’t even get to object,” Durkin said. “I had to object over the fact that I couldn’t even make an objection.”
As the article notes, this is highly unusual. While in national security cases, certain information may be filed under seal, or certain portions may be held “in camera” without reporters or the public, it’s not at all common to have just one side present. And while you may say that it makes sense in this case, where the three judge panel has to determine whether or not it’s appropriate to share the FISC orders with Daoud’s lawyers, it’s still somewhat troubling to see the ease with which secret court proceedings may occur.