President Barack Obama came to office vowing to run an open and transparent government. By and large, he's kept that promise, strengthening enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act and making it easier for the public to find out who is visiting the White House to conduct business.
But when it comes to the so-called "state secrets privilege," this administration has been too quick to embrace the policy of its predecessor. The doctrine allows lawyers to invoke this evidentiary rule to quash lawsuits in the name of protecting government secrets.
All too often, however, it has been misused to hide embarrassing mistakes and the over-zealous application of anti-terrorism policies involving torture, kidnapping and violations of privacy.
Recently, in an effort to improve the Obama administration's stance, Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines that restrict the use of the "state secrets" doctrine and establish a more rigorous process to determine when and how it should be invoked. This is a step in the right direction, but it's not enough.
Volumes have been written about the lengths that government agencies will go to in order to hide their mistakes, and the state secrets privilege offers a handy and expedient way to avoid accountability.
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