Federal prosecutors are trying to force the American Civil Liberties Union to turn over copies of a classified document it received from a source, using what legal experts called a new extension of the Bush administration’s efforts to protect national-security secrets.
The novelty in the government’s approach is in its broad use of a grand jury subpoena, which is typically a way to gather evidence, rather than to confiscate all traces of it. But the subpoena issued to the A.C.L.U. seeks “any and all copies” of a document e-mailed to it unsolicited in October, indicating that the government also wants to prevent further dissemination of the information in the document. [Emphasis added]
The ACLU has been told by the government that it is not the target of the Grand Jury investigation, which suggests that the target is the individual who passed the document on to the ACLU. And the document?
The disputed document, according to the A.C.L.U., is three-and-a-half pages long and unremarkable, and its disclosure would be only mildly embarrassing to the government. It added that the document “has nothing to do with national defense.” [Emphasis added]
So if the document doesn't have anything to do with troop movements, weaponry, sources and methods, what's the deal? The deal is that this administration values secrecy for secrecy's sake, first of all, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this administration doesn't want the American public to see how the nation's business is conducted. It is essential to this administration that the people not know certain things, which leads to the supposition that the government has something to hide.
But back to the creative part, the use of a grand jury subpoena "which is typically a way to gather evidence, rather than to confiscate all traces of it." This is clearly a perversion of the grand jury process, and the government lawyers know it. It is also a pretty handy way to stop all whistleblowers and leakers from getting the word out to the public on just what the government is up to. It is an effective way to stop publication, a violation of the First Amendment. The ACLU knows this,as their motion to quash the subpoena makes clear:
In its filing, the A.C.L.U. also argues that the government is misusing the grand jury that issued the subpoena.
“Despite extensive research,” the motion to quash says, “we have been unable to find a single reported decision even mentioning, much less enforcing, a subpoena purporting to preclude the subpoenaed party from retaining a copy of subpoenaed documents. There is no possible argument that there is an investigative purpose to such a subpoena.”
Of course there is no investigative purpose. The purpose is to hide the evidence. If the government is willing to subvert the Grand Jury process over something only "mildly embarrassing," what will it do when clear malfeasance is involved?
Labels: First Amendment