US Gov't Wants To Use 'State Secrets' Claim To Kill Defamation Case (Not Involving US Gov't) Without Giving A Reason
from the secret-law,-secret-courts,-secret-reasons dept
We’ve written many times in the past about the DOJ’s abuse of the “state secrets” privilege to try to toss out basically any lawsuit that explores government surveillance, no fly lists and the like. But, now it’s taking the ridiculousness to a new level. In a NY court room, the DOJ is requesting a civil defamation lawsuit between two private parties be tossed out for state secrets reasons — but refuses to provide any reason for why it’s a state secrets issue. Basically, the government wants to be able to just claim state secrets and have everyone believe them, killing off a defamation lawsuit between two private parties.
If the judge agrees, it would mark the first time the government had invoked the state secrets privilege without publicly explaining its motivation for doing so.
And, of course, if the judge allows it, expect the DOJ to use this new-found power to continue to get all sorts of lawsuits dismissed without an explanation.
A ruling by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos allowing use of the privilege – more closely associated with cases involving government surveillance, extraordinary rendition and espionage – without a public explanation could set a precedent for it to be used with minimal disclosures either to the public or to opposing parties in lawsuits.
The judge has at least expressed some skepticism about this, but it’s not clear how he’ll rule.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Byars hesitated during a hearing on Wednesday when Judge Ramos asked whether he had been able to find any cases in which the government had been allowed to use the state secrets privilege without providing a public explanation.
In the end, he did not dispute the claim by Restis’s lawyer Abbe Lowell that the Restis case would be the first to be dismissed under the privilege without the government submitting a public affidavit describing the nature of the information that needed to be kept secret.
“Public disclosure must not risk the secrets at issue,” Byars said, adding that not even Restis’s lawyers could be told about the secret information because the case is civil, not criminal, and “it’s not done.”
For the time being, Judge Ramos asked the government and both parties in the case to file some briefs about this, and I wonder if the judge will accept amicus briefs as well. The whole thing seems rather crazy. Not just is the government stepping into a private defamation lawsuit and asserting state secrets, but then trying to do so without any public explanation.
The defamation lawsuit was filed by a Greek businessman, Victor Retsis, against a non-profit group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), concerning claims UANI made, saying that Retsis had illegally exported oil from Iran. Retsis says this isn’t true and it’s defamatory. Even if this does involve dealings with Iran, it’s hard to see how state secrets should come into play here at all. It just feels like the DOJ is trying to hide something else that might come out in the process.