[UPDATED] Obama Administration Announces New State Secrets Policy, Finally
After seeking to dismiss at least a half-dozen lawsuits alleging torture, illegal wiretapping and other abuses by Bush administration officials, each time on the grounds that the lawsuits would endanger national security by unearthing “state secrets,” the Obama administration today is expected to finally change its tune.
Carrie Johnson at The Washington Post reports that the administration will “announce a new policy Wednesday making it much more difficult for the government to claim that it is protecting state secrets when it hides details of sensitive national security strategies such as rendition and warrantless eavesdropping, according to two senior Justice Department officials.”
The new policy apparently requires intelligence agencies and the military to convince the attorney general and a team of Justice Department lawyers that the release of sensitive information would present significant harm to “national defense or foreign relations.” In the past, all it took was one official to approve the claim that state secrets were at risk.
While the Obama administration’s announcement is welcome, it’s also long overdue. Back in June, Attorney General Eric Holder said he was going to announce a new policy on the so-called state secrets privilege “in a matter of days.” Many days have passed, and now three months later, we have a new policy.
Any administration infighting over the changes may have finally been settled by the fact that legislation pending in the Senate, the State Secrets Protection Act of 2009, would have made very similar changes — only the credit would have gone to Congress rather than the president.
This morning, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the USA Patriot Act, committee chair Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a co-sponsor of the State Secrets Protection Act, said of the administration’s new policy on state secrets that “today’s announcement marks progress.” He pledged to closely monitor its application.
Update: Here is the Justice Department’s announcement.