Government attorneys this week asked a court to dismiss a lawsuit brought by author Anthony Shaffer who claimed that his freedom to publish a memoir of his military service in Afghanistan had been violated. The government said that Mr. Shaffer’s book, “Operation Dark Heart,” which appeared last September in censored form, contained properly classified information which the author has no right to publish.
What makes the case doubly strange is that uncensored review copies of the book are in circulation, along with the redacted version that has become a best seller. As a result, the case provides a unique opportunity for the public to assess the quality of official classification practices in real time by comparing the two (pdf).
The government has “unlawfully imposed a prior restraint upon the plaintiff by obstructing and infringing on his right to publish unclassified information,” author Shaffer stated in his December 14, 2010 complaint (pdf) against the Department of Defense and the CIA.
Not so, said the Justice Department in its new motion to dismiss (pdf), dated May 16. The book contains classified material and “Plaintiff has no First Amendment right to publish classified information.”
This week the government also told Mr. Shaffer’s attorney, Mark S. Zaid, that several previously censored words or sentences in the book could now be disclosed. “While classified eight months ago, [they] no longer remain classified.” So, for example, the Justice Department said that this sentence was properly classified last September but is now unclassified and may be made public:
“Dawn was an awkward time of day when night-vision goggles were not effective, and it was hard to distinguish anything more than gray and purple shapes.”
A listing of other newly declassified words and sentences in the book was provided by the Justice Department on May 16.
A side-by-side presentation of several censored and uncensored pages from Mr. Shaffer’s book, including some passages that have since been declassified and some that have not, may be found here (pdf).
See also “Behind the Censorship of Operation Dark Heart,” Secrecy News, September 29, 2010.
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