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Justice Groups Press for ‘State Secrets’ Legislation

Seven major civil rights and open government organizations today sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees urging them to pass legislation to restrict the government’s ability to use the “state secrets” privilege to dismiss litigation charging government wrongdoing. Although the Obama administration yesterday announced a new policy in which it essentially promised to use of the state secrets privilege more sparingly, that promise is not good enough, the organizations wrote.

“Both the Bush and Obama administrations have previously relied upon the state secrets privilege to block litigation challenging policies ranging from warrantless wiretapping to extraordinary rendition, and our organizations welcome the new policy as an important first step in bringing much needed reform to the use of this doctrine,” the letter said.

However, the new policy does not address all the problems, the organizations wrote. “To ensure proper oversight and an independent check on executive discretion, judges must be able to review the evidence, order the creation of non-privileged substitutes where appropriate, and assess whether there is sufficient non-privileged evidence to enable a case to proceed,” the letter said. “Legislation is necessary to implement these key reforms.”

The seven organizations who signed onto the letter are the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Constitution Project, Human Rights First, the National Security Archive, and OMB Watch.

The legislation they’re supporting has been introduced in the Senate as the State Secrets Protection Act: S. 417, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and in the House as H.R. 984, sponsored by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

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