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US lowers 'state secrets' shield

Facing calls to roll back sweeping "war on terror This article is about U.S. actions, and those of other states, after September 11, 2001. For other conflicts, see Terrorism.

The War on Terror (also known as the War on Terrorism
" spy powers, the US Department of Justice on Wednesday unveiled plans to make it harder to suppress alleged abuses on national security grounds.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that, starting October 1, he would personally review any "state secrets" claims by the government as part of a broader effort to tighten controls on invoking that privilege.

The new policy "sets out clear procedures that will provide greater accountability and ensure the state secrets privilege The State Secrets Privilege is an evidentiary rule - e.g., doctor-patient, lawyer-client or priest-penitent privilege - created by United States legal precedent. The court is asked to exclude evidence from a legal case based solely on an affidavit submitted by the government  is invoked only when necessary and in the narrowest way possible," he said in a statement.

The Justice Department said in a statement that it would now defend the privilege -- used in the past to short-circuit lawsuits over controversial "war on terror" programs -- "only to the extent necessary to protect against the risk of significant harm to national security."

And the policy will now require the personal approval of the attorney general -- except when he is recused or unavailable -- prior to invoking the privilege, whereas assistant attorneys general could approve it in the past.

The department also vowed narrower assertions of state secrets rights, greater court review of evidence, and to refer "credible allegations of government wrongdoing wrong·do·er  
One who does wrong, especially morally or ethically.

 in a case" to its inspector general when a state secrets claim might prevent the lawsuit from moving forward.

"As part of this policy, the department also commits not to invoke the privilege for the purpose of concealing government wrongdoing or avoiding embarrassment to government agencies or officials," it vowed.

Former president George W. Bush's administration drew charges of overusing the power, invoking it to suppress information in cases dealing with controversial wiretapping A form of eavesdropping involving physical connection to the communications channels to breach the confidentiality of communications. For example, many poorly-secured buildings have unprotected telephone wiring closets where intruders may connect unauthorized wires to listen in on phone  and interrogation methods.

The privilege was also invoked "to stymie sty·mie also sty·my  
tr.v. sty·mied , sty·mie·ing also sty·my·ing , sty·mies
To thwart; stump: a problem in thermodynamics that stymied half the class.

 legitimate cases against government misconduct," according to the American Civil Liberties Union American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nonpartisan organization devoted to the preservation and extension of the basic rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution.  rights group, citing a case against a Boeing subsidiary for alleged involvement in renditions.

In the thwarted case, Boeing had been accused of aiding the abduction Abduction
Balfour, David

expecting inheritance, kidnapped by uncle. [Br. Lit.: Kidnapped]

Bertram, Henry

kidnapped at age five; taken from Scotland. [Br. Lit.
 of five men who were secretly transferred overseas where they were "interrogated under torture," according the ACLU ACLU: see American Civil Liberties Union. .

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the influential Senate Judiciary Committee The U.S. Senate established the Committee on the Judiciary on December 10, 1816, as one of the original 11 standing committees. It is also one of the most powerful committees in Congress; among its wide range of jurisdictions is investigation of federal judicial nominees and oversight of , 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.

The Project on Government Oversight An editor has expressed concern that this article or section is .
Please help improve the article by adding information and sources on neglected viewpoints, or by summarizing and
 good-government group hailed the move, saying it strikes "a reasonable balance between preserving legitimate secrets and protecting the public interest."

The news came as Leahy's panel quizzed David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, on proposed changes to the signature US counter-terrorism law, the controversial Patriot Act.

Kris turned aside questions on whether President Barack Obama supported altering the Act to bolster civil liberties and restrain the government's surveillance powers and ability to search and seize property.

"We don't have an official administration position," Kris told lawmakers, who are mulling the changes because key provisions of the Patriot Act expire December 31.
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Publication:AFP American Edition
Date:Sep 23, 2009
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