Jan. 19, 2005
Court Should Lift Shroud of Secrecy Over Documents, Reinstate Case of Fired FBI Agent
Public Citizen Joins Other Open Government Groups in Filing Amicus Brief; Government Classified Documents to Hide FBI Failures Rather Than Protect National Security Secrets, Groups Say
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today filed a “friend of the court” brief urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reinstate the case of former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, who was fired after reporting to superiors numerous instances of wrongdoing in her unit.
Edmonds challenged her retaliatory dismissal by filing suit in federal court. However, her case was dismissed in July 2004 when Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the “state secrets privilege” to halt the litigation – a common law evidentiary privilege that allows the government to withhold information on the grounds that it could compromise national security.
Edmonds appealed the dismissal of her case. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Edmonds in the appeal, with the Project on Government Oversight, the National Security Archive, the Government Accountability Project, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 9/11 family organizations among those joining Public Citizen in filing the amicus brief.
In their brief, the groups said that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) overreached in claiming that the entire case had to be dismissed. They also say that the district court erred by failing to scrutinize the basis of the government’s privilege claim and determine whether an accommodation was possible that would have permitted Edmonds to prove her case without compromising national security information.
Further, the timing and breadth of the government’s privilege claim suggest that it was used as a litigation tactic to deprive Edmonds of her day in court, rather than to protect legitimate secrets, the public interest groups also assert. The privilege was also used to stop Edmonds from testifying in a case brought by the families of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001, against Saudi individuals and others who allegedly financed al Qaeda.
The groups point out that much of the information that the government claims is secret was released to Congress and the public before the government asserted the state secrets privilege, a fact the district court brushed aside.
“Courts must vigilantly police privilege claims to ensure that the executive branch is not overreaching,” said Michael Kirkpatrick, a lawyer with Public Citizen who wrote the amicus brief. “Not only does the misuse of the state secrets privilege unfairly deprive Ms. Edmonds of her day in court, but it also sets off a wave of unnecessary secrecy that denies the public access to information about the events of 9/11.”
Oral argument in Edmonds’ case is set for April 21, 2005. A recently released DOJ Inspector General report confirms that Edmonds’ allegations had merit and deserve further investigation. It also lends weight to the argument that Ashcroft invoked the rarely used state secrets privilege to hide FBI failures rather than protect national security secrets.
To read the amicus brief, visit https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/edmondsamicus.pdf.