WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Thursday barred the public from arguments in the case of a fired FBI contractor who alleged security breaches and misconduct at the agency.
Sibel Edmonds' (search) lawsuit against the government was thrown out of a lower court when the Bush administration invoked the state secrets privilege, which allows the government to withhold information to safeguard national security.
A three-judge panel denied a request to open the proceedings from lawyers for the former contractor and 12 news organizations.
Edmonds's allegations have been aired on Capitol Hill and in a 35-page report by the Justice Department's inspector general.
Briefs in the case were publicly filed.
"It's unprecedented and outrageous for the court of appeals to close the argument and it serves no proper purpose to keep the public out," said one of Edmonds' lawyers, Arthur Spitzer of the American Civil Liberties Union (search).
The court acted on its own, not at the request of the government, Spitzer said he was told. The court notified the lawyers of its plan Wednesday, prompting a challenge by the ACLU that was supported by media organizations including The Associated Press. Two private groups, the Project on Government Oversight (search) and Public Citizen (search), also joined the effort.
The three appeals court judges who were hearing the case are Douglas Ginsburg and David Sentelle, appointees from the Reagan era; and Karen LeCraft Henderson, who was appointed a federal judge during the Reagan era and elevated to the appeals court by President Bush's father in 1990.
Edmonds, a former FBI contract translator, is going to court against the Bush administration's use of the "state secrets privilege," which it invoked last year to get her case dismissed from U.S. District Court. The privilege, derived from English common law, enables the government in a suit to resist demands for information on national security grounds.
ACLU lawyer Anne Beeson said the administration has used the state secrets privilege to evade accountability in torture and racial discrimination in government.
The FBI (search) has said it fired Edmonds because she committed security violations and disrupted her office.
A 32-year-old Turkish-American, Edmonds said at a news conference Wednesday that part of her job was translating wiretaps as part of the government's investigation of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Edmonds alleges she was retaliated against for telling FBI managers about shoddy wiretap translations and the possible passing of information from a wiretap to the target of an investigation.
The Justice Department's inspector general said Edmonds' allegations to her superiors about a co-worker "raised serious concerns that, if true, could potentially have extremely damaging consequences for the FBI."
The inspector general concluded that the FBI did not adequately investigate the allegations and that Edmonds was retaliated against for speaking out.