Press Releases: Court Allows Government to Use Secrecy to Avoid Accountability

Saturday, May 07, 2005 - 10:00 AM

Appeals Court, Without Opinion, Affirms Dismissal of Sibel Edmonds’ Case


Tracy Zimmerman or Crystal Streuber
(202) 518-8047;; or

Paul Silva
ACLU, 917-406-4688 or 212-549-2689;

May 6, 2005

WASHINGTON—In a one-line order with no explanation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today upheld the dismissal of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds’ case, despite a Justice Department Inspector General’s report which concluded that Edmonds’ whistleblower allegations were in fact “the most significant factor” in the FBI’s decision to terminate her. “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,” Edmonds said. “If the courts aren’t going to protect us, then Congress must act.”

Edmonds, a former Middle Eastern language specialist hired by the FBI shortly after 9/11, was fired in 2002 after repeatedly reporting serious security breaches and misconduct. Edmonds challenged her retaliatory dismissal by filing a lawsuit in federal court, but her case was dismissed last July after Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the so-called “state secrets privilege,” and retroactively classified briefings to Congress related to her case.

“This decision endangers us all. If government employees cannot report security breaches without retaliation, then national security, and all Americans, suffer,” said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU, who argued the case on behalf of Edmonds. “We are determined to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The state secrets privilege has historically been rarely invoked, and even more rarely employed to dismiss an entire case at the outset. When properly invoked, it permits the government to block disclosure of evidence that would cause harm to national security. In the Edmonds case, however, the government used the privilege to urge dismissal of the entire lawsuit, insisting that every aspect of Edmonds’ case involves state secrets—including where she was born and what languages she speaks.

In a surprise move last month, the appeals court closed the courtroom during the oral argument in Edmonds’ appeal to members of the press and general public. Several media organizations, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Reuters America, the Associated Press and The Hearst Corporation, filed emergency motions to open the courtroom. The motions were denied without opinion.

The ACLU said that Edmonds’ case is not an isolated incident, and that the federal government is routinely retaliating against government employees who uncover weaknesses in America’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks or protect public safety. From firing whistleblowers to using special privileges to cover up mistakes, the government is taking extreme steps to shield itself from political embarrassment while gambling with our safety, said the ACLU.

Last week, Edmonds and more than 40 whistleblowers attended bipartisan congressional meetings to demand that Congress act to end government retaliation against those who expose national security blunders. Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a senior Democratic Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, announced he would introduce legislation to provide vastly improved whistleblower protections to all federal employees, contractors and private sector workers who report homeland or national security flaws.

Fourteen groups signed on to a friend-of-the court brief supporting Edmonds’ case, including 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism, Coalition of 9/11 Families, National Air Disaster Alliance, 9/11 Families for a Secure America, September 11th Advocates, and the World Trade Center United Family Group. These groups not only want greater public access to government information relating to the attacks, but fear that the government’s extreme actions will hinder federal employees from coming forward with critical national security information.

Co-counsel in the case are: Melissa Goodman and Ben Wizner of the national ACLU; Art Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area; Mark Zaid of the Washington law firm Krieger and Zaid; and Eric Seiff of New York. When 'mistakes' and 'incompetence' relative to 9/11 pile up across the board and as Family Steering Committee co-founder Mindy Kleinberg testified to on March 1, 2003, the terrorists got 'lucky' again and again and again...and yet for all these so called mistakes allowing the attackers to pull off their attack not a single office holder has lost his job or been demoted since 9/11/01. In fact many have been promoted or given commendations and bonuses.

Whistleblower protection is a critical need and this initiative deserves widespread support. Truthtellers must not be silenced and intimidated. -Ed.