Blogs 96 - 100 of 213
Bizarre Courtroom Exclusion in FBI Whistleblower Case
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia barred the public, the media and Public Citizen’s lawyers from the courtroom April 21 in the case of Sibel Edmonds, the FBI whistleblower. Public Citizen attorney Michael Kirkpatrick, who had filed an amicus curiae brief in the case, called the exclusion "bizarre."
The action was taken at the initiative of the court itself, rather than at the request of the government (which would have been more typical). While the case involves sensitive material - Edmonds had complained about sloppy methods and a possible security breach in the FBI’s translation section - the court’s action will not keep testimony in the courtroom out of the public record.
That’s because, as Kirkpatrick explained, "there’s no gag order, and the court will release transcripts," which means that whatever is said in court will soon be made public. In addition, Edmonds’ lawyers, who were allowed to be present, do not have security clearances. The court closed the hearing on very short notice and gave no reason for the exclusion, Kirkpatrick said.
Public Citizen filed an emergency motion to contest the courtroom closure as did the American Civil Liberties Union, but their motions were denied.
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News suggests the exclusion "seemed intended to suppress media coverage of the hearing rather than to protect classified information." Edmonds, a former FBI contract translator, says that she was fired for telling FBI supervisors about shoddy wiretap translations from Middle Eastern languages and the possible leaking of information to the target of an investigation.
See a January 19, 2005, Public Citizen press release for more background and documents on the Edmonds case.
Posted 04-22-2005 2:21 PM EDT
AP Sues Government Over Secret Guantanamo Hearings
The Associated Press filed suit April 19 in federal court for the release of documents related to military hearings for Guantanamo detainees, according to an AP report. More than 500 terrorism suspects are being held at the U.S. military base in Cuba.
The AP says that it has been able to report only anecdotally on 558 tribunals conducted by the military since last August, after the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees may challenge their imprisonment. The news organization asked the court to order the government to release transcripts of all detainees’ testimony, along with their written statements and documents they have submitted.
The AP submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the information last fall, but the government has refused to provide the documents. The news agency says the documents are "unquestionably of great interest to the public."
The U.S. government has designated Guantanamo detainees enemy combatants, which means they have fewer legal protections than prisoners of war and can be held indefinitely without charges.
After a court ordered the military to comply with a FOIA request, the American Civil Liberties Union received thousands of documents pertaining to the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, but the ACLU is still seeking video and photographic evidence.
A limited number of documents showing U.S. government charges and rulings about some Guantanamo detainees (but not the detainees’ own statements) can be viewed on an AP Web site.
Posted 04-21-2005 5:31 PM EDT
Washington Post Slams Administration Secrecy
The lead editorial in the April 18 Washington Post criticizes the Bush administration in general and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in particular for going overboard in making government information secret.
The Post describes several cases in which the NRC has kept secrets about safety vulnerabilities from the very people who are supposed to be studying those problems, including the U.S. nuclear industry. In one instance, an expert panel "was unable to examine several important issues related to the security of spent fuel, in part because it was unable to obtain needed information from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
The editorial points out that the NRC is not alone in its excessive drive for secrecy: For example, CIA budget data going back more than 40 years are still classified, even though the information was earlier made public.
For more on NRC secrecy, see this recent Bushsecrecy blog entry.
Posted 04-18-2005 6:07 PM EDT
Bush's IRS Blocks Release of Documents, After 30 Years of Openness
The Internal Revenue Service is illegally withholding information about how it enforces tax law, using the absurd excuse that releasing the information would compromise homeland security. But the Public Citizen Litigation Group - supporting the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) - has sued the agency as part of TRAC’s ongoing effort to make public information that has been regularly available for the past 30 years, according to a Public Citizen press release.
What makes the IRS refusal especially outrageous is that the tax agency accepted a consent decree stemming from previous litigation that required it to make statistical information available to TRAC on a regular, ongoing basis. But the IRS recently balked at releasing the data, asserting that it would have to be specially compiled since it no longer keeps basic statistics about audits, appeals and collection activities.
TRAC, a nonpartisan research center based at Syracuse University, has in the past obtained information about the IRS’s databases and programs, statistical tables and an IRS manual on information systems. Such information allows independent observers to make their own judgments about how the agency is enforcing U.S. tax laws. For example, researchers have found that wealthy taxpayers are much more successful than poor ones in getting the IRS to reduce the amount of taxes and penalties owed in enforcement actions.
"From my research it appears the IRS is reverting to its habits in the 1950s and 1960s, when secrecy was the norm and the problems of corruption and political abuse were later uncovered by the Congress," said David Burnham, a co-director of TRAC, former New York Times reporter and author of "A Law Unto Itself: Power, Politics and the IRS."
The lawsuit filed by Public Citizen on behalf of TRAC claims that there is no valid exemption under the federal Freedom of Information Act for the IRS documents, and that agency officials have no authority to designate the documents "For Internal Use Only," as they have done. The plaintiffs are also asking the court to take initial steps toward finding the IRS officials subject to disciplinary action for arbitrarily and capriciously withholding documents from the public.
Posted 04-14-2005 3:03 PM EDT
Defense Doctrine Web Site Shut Down
A large portion of a major U.S. Department of Defense Web site was taken offline April 8, after unclassified documents on the site became the subject of news stories and public controversy. The disappearing act was reported by the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News, an excellent source on government secrecy and secrets.
The missing Web presence is the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) Joint Electronic Library, where until recently you could find hundreds or thousands of doctrinal and other publications. It has been replaced by a single page that reads, "This website is under review. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause."
One of those publications was a draft entitled "Joint Doctrine for Detainee Operations" (JP 3-63) that was circulated by Human Rights Watch and others and that was critically reported in the press.
Another was a draft "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" (JP3-12), that was spotlighted by Jeffrey Lewis of ArmsControlWonk.com in early April.
In response, the Defense Department removed those draft documents, but also many hundreds of others. According to Secrecy News, a DTIC spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
To see a good selection of the documents that have gone missing, go to the FAS Web site. (In a wired world, it’s hard to hide information once it’s been put on the Web.)
Posted 04-08-2005 4:30 PM EDT
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