Friday, October 12, 2007

They still have 0 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad -- wait what?

Oh state secrets, is there anything you can't excuse?

The Supreme Court on Tuesday terminated a lawsuit from a man who claims he was abducted and tortured by the CIA, effectively endorsing Bush administration arguments that state secrets would be revealed if the case were allowed to proceed.
The state secrets privilege arose from a 1953 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the executive branch to keep secret, even from the court, details about a military plane’s fatal crash.

Three widows sued to get the accident report after their husbands died aboard a B-29 bomber, but the Air Force refused to release it claiming that the plane was on a secret mission to test new equipment. The high court accepted the argument, but when the report was released decades later there was nothing in it about a secret mission or equipment.

Translation: suckers!

A quick review of how state secrets claims work:

  1. Government claims that any trial at all will jeopardize state secrets.
  2. Court accepts those claims based purely on faith.
That's the whole process. The court usually does not attempt to verify the claims and review the questionable evidence itself, nor does it allow the trial to continue but merely exclude the secret evidence. Instead, based on nothing but blind obedience, it short-circuits the entire justice system.

The very first invocation of state secrets that set the precedent turned out to be a sham. That is the true precedent: that the government can invoke state secrets claims to magically avoid embarrassing revelations.

Why not verify that the "secrets" are truly important secrets? Clearly the Supreme Court can be given the proper security clearance. Why not exclude only the specific evidence in question but allow the trial to continue without it? I've yet to find a reasonable explanation anywhere -- and I've looked. State secrets claims are nothing more than an exploit, a law-dodging tactic from literally day one.

In our country the courts invent legal theories that are not grounded in any laws, while ignoring actual laws including the Constitution. There is no law that states that the government can get off the hook and avoid trials by invoking unverifiable state secrets claims, for obvious reasons. Meanwhile abduction and torture violate many of our laws, including laws set forth in the Constitution itself. (Including bans on cruel and unusual punishment, the right to proper trial by jury, and that we must abide by international treaties.)

The conservatives who cry about "activist judges" are strangely silent on this one. There is no better definition of an activist judge than a judge that makes up their own pet legal theories that directly conflict with the Constitution. The Constitution is not a complex document, obfuscated with legalese and unfathomable to all but the sharpest lawyers. It is refreshingly straitforward; our Supreme Court Justices should consider reading it, and then doing what it says rather than what some invented legal precedent says instead.

We know that this administration has lied. Beyond that, our system of government is based on wariness, not blind faith and obedience. We don't take as a given that our government is composed of well-meaning, perfectly honorable people. Our system is predicated on careful controls that ensure no branch of government can abuse authority. When the executive branch can claim, without evidence, that a trial would expose state secrets and thus must be stopped there are no checks in play, it becomes a matter purely of trust.

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