Obama Invokes State Secrets Privilege in Torture Case
New York, NY – The Obama administration’s apparent decision to carry forward the Bush administration’s effort to prevent courts from hearing claims for compensation for torture undermines President Obama’s commitment to end torture in America’s name and violates U.S. obligations to provide redress to victims of torture, said Human Rights First.
Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was brought on behalf of five men who were allegedly kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign governments where, they allege, they were interrogated under torture. Over the last several years, the government has invoked the state secrets privilege in cases challenging extraordinary rendition, torture and warrantless domestic surveillance, seeking dismissals of lawsuits at the pleadings stage before any evidence is requested or produced. Many courts have accepted the government’s claims of risk to national security without independently reviewing the information in order to assess whether it could be disclosed without undue risk, or whether lawsuits may proceed without it.
“President Obama has spoken eloquently about the need to turn the page on the Bush administration’s policies of torture and cover-up,” said Sahr Muhammed Ally of the Law & Security Program at Human Rights First. “But the administration’s assertion of the state secrets privilege in the Jeppesen case looks like business as usual and threatens to undermine Mr. Obama’s efforts to reclaim the moral high ground on detainee treatment. The administration’s actions today underscore the need for Congress to enact state secrets reform to ensure that the privilege is used to protect national security, not cover-up illegal acts.” Human Rights First called for legislative reform of the state secrets privilege in its publication How to End Torture and Cruel Treatment: Blueprint for the Next Administration available at http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/etn-end-torture-blueprint.pdf