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State secrets privilege upheld in whistleblower case

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   WASHINGTON, D.C.   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   May 9, 2005

State secrets privilege upheld in whistleblower case

  • Former government translator Sibel Edmonds cannot proceed with her whistleblower retaliation lawsuit because prosecuting it would reveal state secrets, a federal appellate court ruled last week.

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Sibel Edmonds speaks at a press conference immediately after an appeals court conducted part of her appellate hearing in secret last month.

May 9, 2005  ·   The need to protect state secrets justifies the refusal to hear a lawsuit brought by former government translator Sibel Edmonds who claims that she was dismissed in retaliation for criticizing her employer, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled Friday.

Edmonds filed the lawsuit after the FBI fired her in March 2002. She said the agency dismissed her for revealing sloppy work by fellow translators and lapses in security measures in its hiring. The Justice Department’s inspector general later affirmed the substance of her complaints about the agency’s work and that the FBI had retaliated against her.

Despite the apparent weight of evidence in her favor, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton dismissed Edmonds’ case in July 2003 after the government invoked the so-called state secrets privilege. The case’s continued prosecution would jeopardize national security, the government argued.

Walton considered some of the information at issue privately in his chambers, but refused to offer much explanation. “This Court is unable publicly to explain its conclusion in any more detail. It is one of the unfortunate features of this area of the law that open discussion of how the general principles apply to particular facts is impossible.”

In affirming Walton’s dismissal of the suit, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., issued a one-page order that also did not explain its ruling.

Edmonds’s appeal has been marked by secrecy. Last month, the court closed oral arguments in the case to the public. A coalition of media organizations, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a motion asking that the hearing be opened, but that petition was also denied with no explanation.

Edmonds said in an American Civil Liberties Union press release that “first the government claims that everything about me is a state secret, then the court hearing is closed to the public, and now the court issues a decision without any public explanation. The government is going to great lengths to cover up its mistakes. If the courts aren’t going to protect us, then Congress must act.”

During a rally last week, more than 40 whistleblowers urged Congress to beef up whistleblowing protections and Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said that he would introduce such legislation.

(Edmonds v. FBI; Whistleblower Counsel: Ann Beeson, ACLU; Washington, D.C.)RL

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