Monday, July 20, 2009

Court Rebukes U.S. Government Over 'Secret Law'

Steven Aftergood writes on Secrecy News:

“Government must operate through public laws and regulations” and not through “secret law,” a federal appellate court declared in a decision last month. When our government attempts to do otherwise, the court said, it is emulating “totalitarian regimes.”

The new ruling [.pdf] overturned the conviction of a defendant who had been found guilty of exporting rifle scopes in violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The court said that the government had failed to properly identify which items are subject to export control regulations, or to justify the criteria for controlling them. It said the defendant could not be held responsible for violating such vague regulations.

Normally, “A regulation is published for all to see,” explained Judge Easterbrook, a Reagan appointee who is considered a judicial conservative. “People can adjust their conduct to avoid liability. [In contrast,] a designation by an unnamed official, using unspecified criteria, that is put in a desk drawer, taken out only for use at a criminal trial, and immune from any evaluation by the judiciary, is the sort of tactic usually associated with totalitarian regimes,” he said.

More here.


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