I should have posted on this a few days back, but a few days back I wasn’t writing here yet, so I hope y’all can excuse the delay.
Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court got handed the case of Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen who was suing the Administration. Now, why would a German citizen feel the need to sue the American government? Glad you asked. Turns out that in 2003, he was snatched by American agents, flown to a prison in Afghanistan, and held for a year as they interrogated him about his connections to terrorists. Turned out, of course, that he had none, and that our guys had been using their “enhanced interrogation techniques” (which totally aren’t torture, because only bad guys torture people, and we’re the good guys!) on an innocent man. Strangely enough, he’s a trifle annoyed about the situation, and decided to sue.
The case got all the way to the Supremes, who promptly decided that they wouldn’t bother to even hear the case, deferring to the Bush Administration’s claim that a public trial would expose “state secrets.” Two things came quickly to mind.
First, as far as “secrets” go… Presumably the secrets in question are the interrogation methods that were used on al-Masri, and the Administration’s claim is that if they’re revealed, terrorists will be able to prepare for them, thus thwarting our noble intelligence agents. Now, diligent journalism from all over the globe has already uncovered evidence of temperature manipulation, beatings, stress positions, sleep deprivation, religious and sexual degradation, and waterboarding. So the obvious question comes to mind: if this is already public, what sort of stuff are they doing that they think hasn’t been revealed? The mind simply boggles.
Second (and this is something I’d only just learned recently), the “state secrets” privilege in this country is based on a Supreme Court case from 1953. The families of several men who died in the crash of a test bomber sued to gain access to the accident report, in hopes of finding out what had happened to their loved ones. The government refused, claiming that releasing the report would expose important military secrets. It being the early years of the Cold War, the Court deferred to this claim and ruled against the families. Several years ago, the documents in question became public, and it turns out that there was nothing in them that could reasonably qualify as a legitimate military secret. It was the classic example of a government hiding a screwup behind the “Classified” stamp.
What this all means is pretty straightforward. The Court, by refusing to hear the case, has tacitly admitted that the government can kidnap a person, hold them against their will, subject them to treatment that any rational individual would consider torture, all without accusing them of a crime or allowing them access to counsel. And, if this person should by some miracle manage to exercise their basic rights and sue for redress, the government can simply conjure the all-purpose defense of “national security secrets” and get away with it.
That’s the Magna Carta, the one worthwhile thing King John (yeah, the guy Robin Hood stole from) ever did. Among other things, it set down on paper the right of a citizen not to be arrested or imprisoned “except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” That was almost 800 years ago.
Good thing the Bush Administration is around to protect us from such quaint medieval notions. And even better that the pesky courts didn’t try to interfere. Because if they had, the terrorists would win, and we all know that the terrorists would take our freedom away.