Monday, November 28, 2005

Supreme Court rejects appeal by fired FBI linguist

Supreme Court rejects appeal by fired FBI linguist

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court let stand on Monday the dismissal of a lawsuit by a former FBI linguist who said she had been fired in 2002 for speaking out about possible security breaches, misconduct and incompetent translation work.

Without any comment, the justices rejected an appeal by Sibel Edmonds, who worked as a contract linguist at the FBI's Washington field office from shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks until her dismissal the following March.

A Web site describing her fight with the FBI said that she had been hired "because of her knowledge of Middle Eastern languages."

Edmonds had reported to FBI management concerns about the quality of the translations, accusing fellow translators of willful misconduct and gross incompetence. She also accused a co-worker of possible espionage.

Edmonds said that numerous communications had been left untranslated or had been mistranslated.

The FBI has said that Edmonds was disruptive and that her allegations were not credible.

In July 2002, she sued the FBI, the U.S. Justice Department and various high-level officials in challenging her dismissal.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed the case after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the rarely used "state secrets privilege."

He warned that further disclosure of the duties of Edmonds and other translators could cause "serious damage to the national security interests of the United States."

Walton ruled that secret declarations from Ashcroft and a top FBI official demonstrated that the lawsuit could reveal classified information about intelligence-gathering methods and could disrupt diplomatic relations with foreign governments.

A U.S. appeals court, in a three-paragraph judgment, upheld the dismissal.

In appealing to the Supreme Court, attorneys for Edmonds described her as a whistle blower. They said the justices should clarify the proper scope and application of the state secrets privilege.

They also argued that the appeals court violated the First Amendment when it excluded the press and the public from the arguments in the case in April, without any specific findings that secrecy was necessary.

A number of news media companies and groups supported that part of the appeal and said the public's First Amendment right of access to criminal cases should also apply to civil cases, including appellate oral arguments.

Justice Department attorneys said the appeals court's decision upholding the dismissal of the lawsuit was correct and that further review of the case was unwarranted. They said Ashcroft properly invoked the state secrets privilege after personally considering the matter.