You Have No Right to Know if the Government Wants to Murder You

This is literally straight out of Kafka’s novel The Trial, where the protagonist is sentenced to death by an unspecified court for an unspecified crime:

A U.S. judge Tuesday dismissed an American journalist’s lawsuit challenging his alleged placement on a “kill list” by U.S. authorities in Syria, after the Trump administration invoked the “state secrets” privilege to withhold sensitive national security information.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of Washington, D.C., last year had opened the way for Bilal Abdul Kareem, a freelance journalist who grew up in New York, to seek answers in his civil case from the government and to try to clear his name after what he claims were five near-misses by U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

Collyer in June 2018 ruled that Abdul Kareem, who said he was mistaken for a militant because of his frequent contact with militants linked to al-Qaeda, was exercising his constitutional right to due process in court.

But after talks between Abdul Kareem’s lawyers and U.S. authorities broke down, the government tapped the rarely invoked state secrets authority, saying Abdul Kareem sought information revealing “the existence and operational details of alleged military and intelligence activities directed at combating the terrorist threat to the United States.”

In a 14-page opinion, Collyer said she was bound to agree, saying the government’s right to withhold information in such instances is “absolute.” 

First, the invocation of the state secrets privilege is not that uncommon, and second, the case that established this absolute privilege, United States v. Reynolds, the US government lied to the court about the secret nature of the the evidence.

This is yet another fact that makes the case for the Swedish concept of Offentlighetsprincipen (openness), which creates the default of public access for all government data.

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