Secret courts – Secret court opinions. Secret justice

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Oct 14, 2011 Secret courts – Secret court opinions. Secret justice

George Bush I presented us with the "New World Order". In 1991, I joined the second Gulf War I peace march in Washington, and watched a brilliantly-choreographed, eerie and ominous procession of silent huge papier-mache-headed men in black suits, white shirts and black ties periodically and in unison spinning hand-held oversized new-year-style noisemakers while simultaneously bowing, under a "New World Order" banner. Marching along with me was a close friend, who remarked that a "suit" often is used negatively to refer to a member of "the establishment." It was eerie.

It does not stop there. We have the secret U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance/ FISA Court, with their heavily-redacted court opinions. That is disturbing.

Today comes a court opinion that at first blush seems completely secret, containing nothing more than a caption, the list of the members of the three-judge panel, and the following statement in large bold letters:

Classified Opinion Not Available to Public

Dhan Farhan Abdul Latif, Detainee, Camp Delta, et al., v. Obama No. 10-5319 (D.C. Cir., Oct. 14, 2011).

I was about to end this blog entry here, but decided to see the extent to which the rest of the court filings are secret. Some court entries in the case have redactions and some do not. This Latif case started out in the federal trial court (in 2004) and in the D.C. Circuit listing the lead plaintiff as Mahmoad Abdah in this Guantanamo inmate habeas corpus case. Accompanying today’s D.C. Circuit’s Farhan opinion is the Court’s Order vacating the trial court’s order to release Mr. Latif. However, the foregoing Order was only available by paying the online PACER system to display the case docket and to open the Order.

As it turns out, the Latif opinion will only remain fully classified if the federal government’s legal team convinces the court to do so. Today the Court issued an accompanying Order explaining that the Opinion is being kept classified until the parties have an opportunity to provide reasons why the non-shaded areas in today’s Court’s opinion provided to the parties should not be made public. I only found the foregoing Order by paying for it online through the PACER docketing system, whereas the only free online document in this case today is the one above stating "Classified Opinion. Not Available to Public", possibly because the D.C. Circuits website has links to opinions but not orders (other than to obtain them through for pay through the PACER link on the court’s website). I suggest that the Court would have had the public better informed had it made a notation in its Classified Opinion notice that the court has classified the opinion pending the parties’ opportunity to present arguments as to why the unshaded portions should not be made public.

Here are some informative links and more information about this habeas corpus case, which started with twenty-eight Guantanamo detainees as plaintiffs, and which generated over 900 trial court docket entries:

– The federal appellate docket.

– The trial court docket.

– The trial court’s Order to release Mr. Latif.

– Trial judge Henry Kennedy’s Memorandum Opinion to release Mr. Latif. As an aside, Judge Kennedy is the first judge before whom I did a civil jury trial, in 1997 in the District of Columbia Superior Court. He was a pleasure to appear before throughout. If all judges had his kind demeanor and exercised his level of wisdom that I witnessed during that trial, we would have all the more justice in the courts. I am sure the jurors also felt Judge Kennedy’s soothing and positive energy.  

– The habeas corpus petition that started this litigation.

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