Thursday, July 9, 2009

Government wants "blanket license" to hide material in Posada Carriles case, Miami Herald and AP say

The Miami Herald Publishing Co. and the Associated Press are trying to force federal prosecutors to release "unclassified but sensitive" material in the federal government's case against Luis Posada Carriles.
Prosecutors want the U.S. District Court in El Paso to "enter a broad protective order that would violate the Constitution," the news organizations contend in a motion filed June 30.
Prosecutors requested the protective order in a June 5 motion. Such an order would give the government a "blanket license to preemptively cause certain unclassified documents to be filed under seal, without prior review," the news organizations say.
Prosecutors deny they are seeking a "blanket license" to keep documents secret. In a July 6 response, they say:
...the Government has simply sought to limit the dissemination of information that does not qualify as judicial records but is sensitive to legitimate privacy, commercial, national security, law enforcement, and foreign government interests. Thus the proposed protective order cannot be equated to a global gag order.
Prosecutors say the news organizations "distort the common law in their unfounded attempt to gain access to pre-trial, unfiled discovery materials" and "mischaracterize and misapply" past court decisions on gag orders. They say:
...having mischaracterized the common law, misstated the case law, and misrepresented the facts, third party media outlets’ Motion to Intervene should be denied; and the Government’s proposed protective order should be entered.
Lawyers for Posada Carriles are also fighting prosecutors' effort to hide information from the public. In a June 26 motion, they say:
The Government in its motion fails to identify any “good cause” or “serious injury” to the Government to support issuance of a broad, blanket protective order regarding the disclosure of discovery in this cause that the Government deems “sensitive.”
In a June 30 reply, the government says Posada Carriles' lawyer "misconstrues the terms of the Government's proposed Protective Order for Unclassified But Sensitive Material...and quibbles with its wording, after having declined to discuss the terms of a mutually acceptable order."

Prosecutors say:
Finally, and most importantly for this Court, good cause exists for the entry of a protective order to limit the inappropriate use of sensitive material in which there is a privacy, proprietary, or ongoing criminal investigative interest.
We'll see how Judge Kathleen Cardone responds. Many judges have a tendency to side with government officials in such cases. We'd like to trust federal authorities when they tell us that information cannot be released because it might jeopardize an ongoing investigation or threaten our national security.

The problem is, we can't always trust Uncle Sam.Link

Secrecy during the Bush administration rose. Millions of previously declassified documents were reclassified as secret, according to the National Security Archive at Georgetown University.

And not all the secrecy was necessary. Example: A two-page biographical sketch of Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet. There are two versions - one declassified in 1999 and one reclassified four years later and included among 14 million documents kept secret in 2003. In a May 2004 post, the National Security Archive said the Defense Intelligence Agency "blacked out large sections" of the 1999 biographical sketch "on ostensible national security grounds, including General Pinochet's liquor choices - scotch and pisco sours..."

Said Archive director Thomas Blanton:
Pinochet's pisco sours are certainly not the only dubious secret among the 14 million new ones. The real question is whether the secrecy veil really makes us safer, or does it hide our country's vulnerabilities and policy problems when what we need to do is fix them?

Redacted Pinochet biography, page 1
Redacted biography, page 2

Original version, page 1

Page 2

No doubt, it's easier for federal authorities to keep information secret rather than deal with the consequences of its release. But that does little to keep or win the public's trust.
Barack Obama has vowed greater transparency in government. We'll know over time if he fulfills that promise.
In the Posada Carriles case, it's obvious prosecutors are fighting hard to prevent the release of material. I wonder why.
As a journalist, I've dealt with many U.S. officials over the years. There are many officials I respect and trust on a personal level. But I don't think it's ever a good idea to blindly trust any government.
Judge Cardone has a duty to make sure that the federal government justifies its need for secrecy.
Posada Carriles is a former CIA operative who has been linked to bombings and assassination plots. As much information as possible should be disclosed in his case. That would be in the public's best interest, not hiding documents from public view, even if that material might prove embarrassing to the government.

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