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What is State Secrets Privilege?

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When whistleblowers try to pursue their claims in court—whether they say they've been fired unfairly, or they say their boss was doing something illegal—they can try to take their case to Federal Civil Court .

But if they do sue the government, the State Secrets Privilege can be invoked.  The Supreme Court defined the privilege over fifty-five years ago—in the case of United States vs. Reynolds

The widows of three Air Force contractors who'd died in a plane crash tried to sue the government. The government claimed that the accident reports were a state secret, so the case had to be thrown out.  In 1953, the court agreed and the case was thrown out. The State Secrets Privilege was born.

For the last 8 years, the Bush Administration has liberally applied the privilege.  The privilege was invoked to throw out the cases of Maher Arar and Khaled el-Masri, who both tried to sue the government for illegally kidnapping and torturing them.

State Secrets Privilege has also protected telecom companies who allegedly illegally spied on US citizens.  Later in the week, we'll hear about some of the other cases on which it has been invoked.

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