Reform of the State Secrets Privilege

06.11.08 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“In too many cases, claims of state secrets have succeeded in keeping important cases out of court entirely or preventing courts from considering evidence vital to the outcome of a case,” said Rep. John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, at a January 29 hearing on “Reform of the State Secrets Privilege.” The record of that hearing has just been published.

In one recent case, a federal judge did what others have often failed to do in state secrets cases, which is to critically examine the basis for the assertion of the state secrets privilege.

Judge Sidney I. Schenkier of the Northern District of Illinois conducted hearings as well as in camera review of documents that the government insisted were protected by the state secrets privilege. In an April 16, 2008 ruling (pdf) in the case of M. Afikur Rahman v. Michael Chertoff, he rejected some of the government’s privilege claims and affirmed others.

The 1953 Reynolds case that established the Supreme Court precedent on the state secrets privilege was examined most recently by writer Barry Siegel in the new book “Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, A Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets” (Harper Collins, June 2008).