In federal courts and on Capitol Hill, challenges are brewing to a key legal strategy President Bush is using to protect a secret surveillance program that monitors phone calls and e-mails inside the United States, The Associated Press reports. Under grilling from lawmakers and attack by lawsuits alleging Bush authorized the illegal wiretapping of Americans, the White House has invoked a legal defense known as the ”state secrets” doctrine — a claim that the president has inherent and unchecked power to shield national security information from disclosure, either to plaintiffs in court or to congressional overseers.
The principle was established a half-century ago when, ruling in a wrongful-death case brought by the widows of civilians killed in a military plane crash, the Supreme Court upheld the Air Force’s refusal to provide an accident report to the plaintiffs. The government contended releasing the document would compromise information about a secret mission and intelligence equipment. The Bush administration has used the privilege in unprecedented numbers, and Congress and the courts are finally addressing this trend, which te Reporters Committee has been criticizing for several years.