US wants fewer state secrets

2009-09-23 20:39

Washington - President Barack Obama's administration on Wednesday made it more difficult for the government to suppress information on security grounds, amid allegations the power was used to cover up Bush-era excess.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that from today (Wednesday) he would personally review claims to state secrecy privilege, and vowed tougher standards would be put in place.

"Under the new policy, the department will now defend the assertion of the privilege only to the extent necessary to protect against the risk of significant harm to national security," a Justice Department statement said.

"The policy requires the approval of the Attorney General prior to the invocation of the state secret privilege, except when the Attorney General is recused or unavailable."

The administration of president George W Bush was accused of overusing the power, invoking it to suppress information in cases dealing with controversial wiretapping and interrogation methods.

The privilege was also invoked "to stymie legitimate cases against government misconduct", according to the American Civil Liberties Union, a rights group, citing a case against a Boeing subsidiary for alleged involvement in renditions.

Case blocked

In the case Boeing was accused of aiding the kidnap of five men who were secretly transferred overseas where they were "interrogated under torture" according the ACLU.

The Bush administration blocked the case by invoking state secrets on the grounds that national security was at risk.

The Justice Department committed "not to invoke the privilege for the purpose of concealing government wrongdoing or avoiding embarrassment to government agencies or officials".

Holder described the new policy as "an important step toward rebuilding the public's trust in the government's use of this privilege while recognising the imperative need to protect national security".

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the influential Senate Judiciary Committee, welcomed the move, which he said included key elements of legislation being discussed in Congress.

"When properly invoked, the state secrets privilege serves important goals. History shows that where it is abused, there are serious consequences," he said.

Read more on:    george w bush  |  barack obama  |  eric holder  |  united states
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