WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday dealt with the doctrine of state secrets, debating whether it allows the government to simply hide evidence it says could harm national security, or whether it gives the government the right to insist on legal action against it based on on state secrets. dismiss completely.
The case arose from the surveillance of Muslims in Southern California in 2006 and 2007 by Craig Monteil, an FBI informant. During the observation, no public evidence of wrongdoing was found. In contrast, after Mr. Montey began talking about jihad and violence at a mosque in Irvine, California, the community leader contacted the FBI to report him.
The three men spied on by Mr. Monteil sued the FBI and the agents responsible for his leadership, claiming, among other things, that their right to practice their religion had been violated. The government decided to reject these claims, citing the privilege of divulging state secrets.
Edwin S. Knidler, a federal government lawyer, told judges on Monday that the dismissal was justified “because information about the reasons, subjects, sources and methods of this foreign intelligence investigation was so important to the case. … “
Akhilan T. Arulanantam, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the case was not typical. According to him, his clients did not seek any secret evidence from the government and were confident that they could succeed using publicly available information.
The Supreme Court has made only a few decisions on state secrets, and they seem to make a distinction.
In the historic 1953 United States v. Reynolds case, the widows of people killed in the B-29 bomber crash in Waycross, Georgia were denied access, on the basis of state secrets, to information that would corroborate their inappropriate death claims. In line with Reynolds’ ruling, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch said: “The privilege of state secrets allows the government to keep evidence away from the party, but usually the party has the right to prove its case using other evidence.”
The Supreme Court upheld a broader approach in 2011 General Dynamics v. The United States, which ruled that national security concerns prevented the court from even considering a multi-billion dollar dispute between military contractors and the government.
Appealing to a unanimous court in a 2011 ruling, Judge Antonín Scalia said that while Reynolds’ case concerned the concealment of evidence presented, some cases, including what he called “espionage contracts,” could not proceed at all because the topic was secret.
Judge Gorsuch said Monday’s case, FBI v. Fazag, no. 20-828, may well be the first kind in which the government has a choice: whether it wants to disclose secret evidence for defense, or whether it wants to risk losing money in the interests of the national security?
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Judge Gorsuch said he is wary of letting the government keep both his secrets and his money. “In a world in which the state of national security is growing every day,” he said, “this is a great force.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 2019 in favor of the plaintiffs, but on a different basis. The Court of Appeals stated that a 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) provision established procedures for reviewing national security information and that the trial judge should have used them instead of dismissing the case after the government applied the doctrine of state secrets.
Some judges were not convinced by this ruling and indicated that they did not want to analyze the technical language of FISA to decide when and how it will be applied.
Judge Elena Kagan outlined what she said could be an “attractive solution.” She said the case could be returned to the appellate court for a fresh look at “the simplest question in this case” – “when is the appropriate dismissal” in accordance with the doctrine of state secrets.
Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in yet another state secrets case about whether the government could invoke national security to block testimony from two CIA contractors who were instrumental in the brutal interrogation of a detainee known as Abu Zubaydah, who was beaten. water. over 60 times and is free of charge at Guantanamo Bay.