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Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060777028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060777029
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,958,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1948, three civilian engineers died in the crash of an air force B-29 bomber that was testing a missile guidance system; in their widows' lawsuit, the Supreme Court upheld the air force's refusal to divulge accident reports that it claimed held military secrets. But when the declassified reports surfaced decades later, the only sensitive information in them involved the chronic tendency of B-29 engines to catch fire, egregious lapses in maintenance and safety procedures, and gross pilot error. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Siegel (Shades of Gray) ably recounts the case, a scandal and cover-up with grave constitutional implications. The 1953 Supreme Court decision gave the executive branch sweeping authority to conceal information under national security claims without judicial review, a precedent confirmed when the Court refused to reopen the case in 2003. (The author notes the influence of Cold War anxieties and the 9/11 attacks in these rulings.) Siegel insists on decorating the story with often extraneous human-interest profiles of everyone involved. But his is an engrossing exposition of the facts and legal issues in the case, which produced a disturbing legacy of government secrecy and misconduct still very much alive. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“Barry Siegel’s Claim of Privilege uncovers the mystery behind a famous Supreme Court case, reveals its poignant human cost, and offers a timely reminder of the perils of government secrecy.” (Jeffrey Toobin, New York Times bestselling author of THE NINE)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Pope on June 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is the chronicle of a grievous travesty of justice at the highest level of our American political system. One branch of government lied to another branch of government, and 50 years thereafter the lie was discovered and its content was made public. On appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States of America it became evident that our judicial system is incapable of effecting the balance of powers that was assumed in our founding documents.

A litany of successive abuses of executive privilege has proceeded from that event, protected by legal assumptions that were couched in the mechanics of the original lie. Barry Siegel gives us a detailed and meticulously documented look into this part of our American heritage, and he does it with a strong personal sense for the human beings who have been - and will be affected.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
No one questions that governments need to keep some things secret. There is no reason that I should be able to get detailed blueprints on the newest of submarines, for instance, nor need I decode the latest messages going to the generals in Afghanistan. In matters of national security, keeping secrets even from citizens is only sensible. There is a problem, though, that it is the national government that makes decisions about what is a matter of national security. There are other reasons to keep secrets, like covering up blunders or limiting financial redress against the government, and bureaucrats may be eager to claim that these must be kept secret and ask for your faith that they need the secrecy in the interest of national security. There is an important Supreme Court decision that first put the "states secrets privilege" into the law, _United States vs. Reynolds_ of 1953, and it is a basis for subsequent states secret decisions, of which , of course, there have been many. It is a shock to find out that the decision was based on lies presented by the prosecution, and that the government fallaciously insisted that the details that would have shown them to be lies were too secret for the courts to consider. In _Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets_ (Harper), journalist Barry Siegel has told the amazing, often distressing story of this case. In a riveting narrative, he tells us about the personalities behind the decision, the families that were affected by it, the historical context of the times in which it was made, and the governmental aftereffects. It has much of the David-versus-Goliath appeal of a legal thriller, while it also throws light on current governmental insistence on the privilege of keeping secrets.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marcus A. Lewis VINE VOICE on July 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Claim of Privilege" is a fascinating work of nonfiction that reads like a novel. Not only does it recount the details of a little-known military plane crash, but also our government's abuse of power. Once you read Siegel's book, you'll want to share it with others.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Neal Johnston on July 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The unilateral invocation of the 'state secrets' doctrine by the government is frought with problems. This book sets forth the history of the leading Supreme Court case on the subject. But it approaches the task more as an exercise in telling the story of the 'sleuthing' by the heirs of the three of the civilians killed in the Air Force accidednt giving rise to the intial litigation than as an analysis of the issues. Half a century after the events, the issues are fascinating, the human story is simply not all that interesting, however painful for the participants.

On page 300, the author rattles off a half dozen current cases where the Bush administration successfully blocked private litigations by invocation of the doctrine, providing a half sentence summary of each. The details of those sister suits are much more important than the details of where the widows and orphans met for lunch. But, in nthis work, 'human interest' substitutes for policy analysis.

The truly core question tends to get lost in all the story telling. Much less shocking than the Supreme Court's sanctioning the government's refusal to allow the heirs to examine the official report of the air accident is the fact that the Court did not require the government to submit the allegedly 'secret' report to the presiding judge for in camera inspection. The Supreme Court submitted to the unilateral truncation of the judiciary's customary function.

Finally, and a complaint which probably only a lawyer would be likely to make, while I am appalled by the government's conduct in this case, I have a strong suspicion that a much better defense/explanation for its performance could be written than Mr. Siegel has provided. The issue is too important for polemic
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By Douglas on April 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author does a fine job describing what continues to be evidence of the decay of our own personal freedoms. This is all very disturbing.

It's fun to see how intimitely connected we often are to the Fifties, and most of us don't know how. Here's one example.

So, where's the Church commission today? Why are state secrets allowed to stand for so long? The onus should be on the Feds to justify, not on the rest of us to get them declassified.

Great writer. Great book.
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