WASHINGTON – Members of Congress reintroduced bipartisan "state secrets" legislation on Wednesday, aimed at protecting executive privilege while ensuring judicial review.
The introduction of the bill comes as Obama administration lawyers on Monday urged a federal appeals court in San Francisco to continue the policy of the previous White House and invoke state secrets privilege in a case about CIA clandestine detentions and rendition.
"The State Secrets Protection Act will help guide the courts to balance the government's interests in secrecy with accountability and the rights of citizens to seek judicial redress," said Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Five other senators, including Republican Arlen Specter, joined in proposing the bill first introduced in the previous Congress to address challenges to the constitutionality of several Bush administration national security programs including rendition, interrogation programs and warrantless wiretapping.
Five members of the House — Republicans and Democrats — put forward the same initiative, which they said in a statement "would curb abuse of the privilege while providing protection for valid state secrets."
The administration's assertion of the state secrets privilege in the San Francisco case, a lawsuit by terrorism suspects detained by US agents in foreign countries and taken to secret detention facilities elsewhere, highlights the continued debate over what secret operations should be allowed into the public eye.
Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler said a balance must be struck between protecting civil liberties and protecting valid state secrets, and that "over-broad claims of secrecy" must not be used as justification to dismiss entire cases.
"The administration's decision this week to adopt its predecessor's argument that the state secret privilege requires the outright dismissal of a case challenging rendition to torture was a step in the wrong direction and a reminder that legislation is required to ensure meaningful review of the state secret privilege," he said.
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