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Even in Federal Lawsuits, Justice Department Insists on Withholding Information

Is a Justice Department lawyer allowed to withhold information about a security clearance from a federal judge because the lawyer says it’s “classified”? Can Justice delete files from the computers of lawyers representing people suing the federal government? Can Justice maintain control over “secret” federal court filings?

Are these bizarre questions? Yes. But the Justice Department is indeed doing or is trying to do all these things to control the federal court system, according to a Jan. 26 New York Times article and editorial.

See, Justice is defending the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program, and it is acting in a paranoid, secrecy-obsessed manner - even requiring judges to use Justice-issued computers to compose court decisions.

“Sometime during all of this, I went on Amazon and ordered a copy of Kafka’s ‘The Trial,’ because I needed a refresher course in bizarre legal procedures,” said Jon B. Eisenberg, a lawyer in an Oregon case challenging the wiretapping program.

Bizarre indeed.

 

Posted 01-30-2007 2:09 PM EDT

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Administration Ends Warrantless Surveillance Program; Won’t Give Details on New Eavesdropping Program

Is it good news?  According to the Jan. 18 Washington Post, the Bush administration has agreed to end the warrantless surveillance program that has been run by the National Security Agency.

The surveillance program will be replaced by a program overseen by the secret court that administers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

In an unsurprising move, “administration officials have declined to provide details of how the new version of the program will operate,” according to the Post.

But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales went up to Capitol Hill Jan. 18 to talk about the administration’s changes. And he got into it with some leading lawmakers.

Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, respectively, demanded that the administration release the Jan. 10 court order allowing the new surveillance program. Both senators wanted more details to make sure the new program protected citizens’ privacy (see The New York Times article).

But, the Post reported, Gonzales suggested that the administration would refuse such demands.

And the quest for openness continues …

 

 

 

Posted 01-19-2007 5:57 PM EDT

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Surprise! Administration DECLASSIFIES Documents

At midnight on Dec. 31, hundreds of millions of pages of secret government documents - including FBI cold war files on who it suspected to be Communist sympathizers - will instantly be declassified, according to a Dec. 21 story in The New York Times.

Yes, the administration is actually declassifying documents!

According to the Times, secret documents 25 years old or older will lose their classified status, unless agencies have sought exemptions on the grounds that the material is still secret. (But it could take months before the declassified papers are ready for researchers, because of considerations such as a growing backlog of records at the National Archives.)

“It [the information] represents the classified history of a momentous period, the cold war,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. “Almost every current headline has an echo in the declassified past, whether it’s coping with nuclear weapons, understanding the Middle East or dictatorship and democracy in Latin America.”

And every year from now on, millions of additional documents will automatically be declassified as they reach 25.

Posted 12-21-2006 5:02 PM EDT

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Administration Overreaches, Tries to Keep Harmless Memo Secret

Even more evidence has surfaced to show that the Bush administration is trying to hide from the public information that has absolutely no impact on national security, according to a Dec. 19 story and editorial in The Washington Post.

This time, the administration was trying to hush the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had a “classified” document that turned out to be an Army memo outlining rules about photographing prisoners of war and detainees in Iraq. Federal prosecutors demanded that the ACLU hand over all copies of the document.

Luckily, the administration realized it was overreaching in trying to force the ACLU and dropped its demand on Dec. 18, according to the Post story.

But the document should never have been classified in the first place.

“It’s commonly accepted that overclassification is rampant, but even so it’s hard to make sense of this one,” according to the Post’s editorial.

 

 

Posted 12-20-2006 10:56 AM EDT

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Administration: Shut Public Out of Hearings Examining Mercury-Based Vaccine Link to Autism

On June 11, 2007, a trial examining whether the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal contributed to autism in the vaccine recipients will commence. The claimants in the case want compensation from a special vaccine injury fund administered by the federal government.

Surprise, surprise - the Bush administration wants to keep the trial a secret. The  administration wants to hold the hearings in a sealed courtroom, off-limits to the public and press, according to a new post by David Kirby (“The Other Secret Bush Court?,” The Huffington Post, Nov. 15, 2006).

Just another way the administration is trying to hide critical information from the public.

Posted 11-27-2006 5:55 PM EDT

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