Victory for the Rule of Law

Great news on the accountability front: Today, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals gave the thumbs-down to the blanket invocation of the pernicious "state secrets" doctrine.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

A federal appeals court rebuffed the Obama administration's assertion of secrecy today and reinstated a lawsuit by five men who say a Bay Area subsidiary of Boeing Co. helped the CIA fly them to foreign countries to be tortured.

A lawyer from President Obama's Justice Department argued to the court in February that the issues surrounding the "extraordinary rendition" program, including government-sanctioned interrogation methods and the company's alleged connection to the CIA, were so sensitive that the very existence of the suit threatened national security.

The Bush administration had taken the same position and persuaded a federal judge in San Jose to dismiss the suit.

In today's ruling, however, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the government and the company could take steps to protect national secrets as the case proceeded. The suit should be dismissed only if secret information is essential for the plaintiffs to prove their case or for the Bay Area company to defend itself, the court said.

"According to the government's theory, the judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law," Judge Michael Hawkins said in the 3-0 ruling.

Citing last year’s Boumediene Supreme Court case, the court writes that

while security depends upon a sophisticated intelligence apparatus, it subsists, too, in fidelity to freedom’s first principles [including] freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adherence to the separation of powers. [internal quotations omitted]

So now the lawsuit against the Boeing subsidiary can proceed. Perhaps it will see some light shed on the Bush Administration's frightening "extraordinary renditions" program.

In a nation governed by the rule of law, we cannot allow the government to shield its illegal actions from judicial scrutiny simply by claiming -- with no supporting evidence required -- that allowing a lawsuit will threaten national security. This "state secrets" doctrine was one of the many ways the Bush Administration evaded responsibility for its own lawbreaking, slammed the courthouse doors on victims of injustice, and arrogated extra-constitutional power to the president. Sadly, in the Ninth Circuit case, the Obama Justice Department took the same approach to this as did Bush's.

Those who knowingly sent people abroad to be tortured by foreign governments, just like those who ordered and enabled torture American style, must face the consequences. Otherwise, America will have become a far different nation than the one that I have always loved.

PFAW