Thursday, April 24, 2008
State Secrets Bill Makes Progress
Earlier today the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would scale back the state secrets privilege.
The privilege is a favorite of the Bush administration, which has invoked it in various cases, including challenges to its wiretapping and extraordinary rendition programs.
Known as the State Secrets Protection Act, the bill sets up a set of procedures for federal courts to follow when handling claims of privilege.
Judges are required to look at the evidence the government claims is privileged and not simply rely on affadavits supplied by the government.
The legislation also prevents judges from dismissing cases before the discovery process is complete.
"It's long past time for Congress to address the state secrets privilege," said main sponsor Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. (pictured). "Congress needs to ensure ... that the courts are adjudicating the privilege properly and not just giving the executive a free pass."
The committee vote was also welcomed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the government's wiretapping program.
One of the organization's attorneys, Kurt Opsahl, said he hoped Congress will rein in what he described as the Bush administration's "abuse of the state secret privilege."
A House bill has not yet progressed beyond the judiciary committee.