Lying to the public is all right, says Washington's chief lawyer

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2002 07:38:50 -0000

The United States Government's top lawyer has said that officials have
the right to lie to American citizens, telling the US Supreme Court that
misleading statements are sometimes needed to protect foreign policy
interests. 

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"It's easy to imagine an infinite number of situations where the
government might legitimately give out false information," the
Solicitor-General, Theodore Olson, told the court on Monday. 

"It's an unfortunate reality that the issuance of incomplete information
and even misinformation by government may sometimes be perceived as
necessary to protect vital interests." 

But Jennifer Harbury, an American widow who was misled for years by
American officials concerning the whereabouts and condition of her
husband, a Guatemalan rebel leader, disagreed. She told the court that
US officials should be held liable if they lie. 

Her husband, Efrain Bamaca-Velasquez, was captured by the Guatemalan
Army in 1992 and died in army custody in 1993. 

Ms Harbury, a lawyer, has alleged that the US officials lied to her to
conceal the involvement of a Central Intelligence Agency informant in
the torture and murder of her husband. She argued that she should have
the right to sue the officials responsible for the alleged cover-up. 

"If they hadn't lied to me, I might have been able to save my husband,"
said Ms Harbury, who took the unusual step of representing herself
before the court. 

The US officials involved say they never intentionally lied to Ms
Harbury. Instead, they withheld certain information or simply refused to
search for information in order to protect American operations in
Guatemala. 

Although the case centres on events that unfolded 10 years ago, the
court's ruling could have a substantial impact on the war on terrorism.
The justices must decide how much information US officials - who are
entrusted with foreign policy secrets - must divulge to American
citizens. 

Since the September 11 attacks, the Bush Administration has made several
moves to clamp down on the flow of information. For example, last
November the Attorney-General, John Ashcroft, ordered closer reviews of
which documents federal agencies release under the Freedom of
Information Act. 

In a separate effort aimed at confounding terrorists through the use of
misinformation, the Administration created - then disbanded - an office
within the Pentagon that was to have planted inaccurate stories in
foreign media. 

An expert on foreign policy and the law at Catholic University in
Washington, Antonio Perez, said current events would weigh heavily on
the justices as they considered this case. 

"The court may well be loath in this time of crisis to do or say
anything that appears to hamstring executive energy in the war against
terrorism." 

Source:  Sydney Morning Herald

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