Court Tells US Gov't That 'State Secrets' Isn't A Magic Wand They Can Wave To Make Embarrassing Cases Go Away
from the good-news dept
Earlier this year, we wrote about the case of Gulet Mohamed, a US citizen who was put on the no fly list and ran into some issues in the Middle East because of that (and by “issues” we mean he was beaten by Kuwaiti officials for wanting to fly home to Virginia). The DOJ was making some nutty arguments, including claiming that the whole case should be thrown out because “state secrets.” This is the usual claim in these kinds of cases. Back in August we noted that the judge, Anthony Trenga, was skeptical of this argument, asking for the DOJ to provide a lot more info to back up its claims (in that post we also noted that the DOJ wanted to pretend that the leaked guidelines for how the no fly list works hadn’t been leaked).
Now the judge has ruled officially and rejected the DOJ’s argument, saying that they can’t just claim “state secrets” and walk away. In the ruling, Judge Trenga makes it clear that while there may be some sensitive information in some documents, the case can move forward without that information being revealed:
Certain of the submitted documents appear to contain confidential, security sensitive information that may fall appropriately within a law enforcement privilege. However, the information presented to date by the defendants in support of the state secrets privilege as to these documents is insufficient to allow the Court to conclude that “there is a reasonable danger” that disclosure of these documents to at least the plaintiffs counsel, under the protections of an adequate protective order, would disclose information that would “expose military matters which, in the interest of national security, should not be divulged.”
More importantly, Judge Trenga notes that the DOJ has to get over this idea that the “state secrets” privilege is some kind of “sovereign immunity” claim that the DOJ can just wave around and have entire cases dismissed:
… the state secrets privilege is a judicially created rule of evidence, not a doctrine of sovereign immunity or non-justiciability, whose applicability and consequences, where applicable, are best considered within a specific context during the actual adjudication of any claims to which it may apply.
That’s a bit of a complex sentence, but it’s basically saying that state secrets may apply to specific bits of evidence, but shouldn’t be used to just toss out an entire case. Kudos for Judge Trenga for not just rolling over when the DOJ said “state secrets.” It would be nice if more judges did the same.