We've talked about the problem in which classified documents that are leaked and widely available to the public are still considered classified
by the government, even though the concept is ludicrous. It leads to absolutely ridiculous situations, such as government employees not being able to look at documents available on Wikileaks, even as everyone else in the world can easily log in and see them. Or the case (linked above) in which lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees weren't allowed to look at these documents -- which anyone else in the world can see -- which relate to their clients. Even the NY Times called this situation "absurd." And it is. In the business world, people commonly sign "non-disclosure agreements," but they're always considered null and void if that same information becomes public by other means. It's bizarre that the government doesn't recognize the same policy.
However, in a lawsuit we first discussed last year
, where the ACLU sued the State Department for failing to declassify (under a FOIA request) documents that were already widely available on Wikileaks, a judge has ruled against the ACLU
, and said that the documents remain classified. Once again, this is absurd. It's as if everyone is actively denying reality.
The ACLU relied on the part of the test that questions whether the disclosure of the information "reasonably could be expected to result in damage to national security." Seeing as anyone seeking to "damage" our national security can just surf over to Wikileaks, and has been able to do that for quite some time, you'd think that the ACLU's argument was pretty rock solid. Not according to the court
(pdf and embedded below). The court seems to tapdance around the issue. It argues that the Court should "defer" to the judgment of the administration on this question, and that it's possible that the official release of these documents could impact national security. I don't buy it. Any official release is unlikely to have any different impact than the unofficial release. To argue that making those releases official has some sort of new "threat" involved just doesn't pass the laugh test.
What's most distressing about this is that it shows a government that is not dealing in reality, but is dealing in a fantasy land, where it pretends that if it sticks its fingers in its ears, and hands over its eyes, it can pretend that the documents, which are very, very public, are not at all public. I want a government that deals in reality and not fantasy. Unfortunately, with this situation, we have the reverse -- and, bizarrely, the courts are saying that an executive branch that lives in fantasyland is just fine.