Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets
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On October 6, 1948, a U.S. Air Force B-29 Superfortress crashed soon after takeoff, killing three civilian engineers and six crew members. In June 1949, the engineers' widows filed suit against the government, determined to find out what exactly had happened to their husbands and why the three civilians had been on board the airplane in the first place. But it was the dawn of the Cold War and the Air Force refused to hand over any documents, claiming they contained classified information. The legal battle ultimately reached the Supreme Court, which in 1953 handed down a landmark decision that would, in later years, enable the government to conceal gross negligence and misconduct, block troublesome litigation, and detain criminal suspects without due-process protections.
Claim of Privilege is a mesmerizing true account of a shameful incident and its lasting impact on our nation—the gripping story of a courageous fight to right a past wrong and a powerful indictment of governmental abuse in the name of national security.
declarations” (email to me, September 16, 2003). In late April…John Ashcroft “U.S. Can Detain Illegal Immigrants Indefinitely, Ashcroft Rules,” Associated Press/CNN.com, April 29, 2003. That same month, federal prosecutors “Prosecutors Appeal ‘Dirty Bomber’ Case Visits,” CNN, April 22, 2003. In late May, the Supreme Court “Supreme Court Declines Secret Hearings Case,” AP/Editor & Publisher, May 27, 2003. The next month, a federal appellate court U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit,
operator. Al Palya, who’d started toward the rear when he first boarded, had ended up strapping himself into the bombardier’s seat in the Plexiglas nose, below and in front of the pilots—less crowded and a prize seat for sightseeing. Curving panes surrounded him on all sides but the rear, providing an almost panoramic view. He was eager: Today’s mission involved making a run on a fictitious target using his Shoran automatic guidance system. They had finished taxiing now. Through the windows, the
detainee cases, x, 272, 279–80, 305–6. See also “enemy combatants”; Guantánamo Bay; and specific detainees Dewey, Thomas, 86, 93 DeWitt, John L., 247–48 Digital Corporation, 203 discovery process. See also United States of America v. Patricia J. Reynolds, Phyllis Brauner, and Elizabeth Palya Hickman v. Taylor and, 109–12 O’Neill and, 111–12 Hirabayashi and Korematsu and, 247–48 domestic eavesdropping, x, 304, 306–7 Douglas, William O., 147, 159, 161, 163, 169, 171–72, 179–81
found a broken piece of gasket material, about ten or twelve inches long, in an oval shape. David didn’t like the burned smell of that gasket, or all the mud—he and Johnny had to stay in the car more than they wished. After two nights in Waycross, he was ready to leave. IN NOVEMBER 1948, SOME SIX WEEKS AFTER THE CRASH, ELIZABETH Palya put her three children in a car and set out from Haddon Heights for her sister Jean’s house in Birmingham. Along the way she stopped in Tennessee to visit her
the dad and husband they’d lost. They had photos and scrapbooks scattered all over the house. Susan and her sister, Cathy, had an uncle who looked like William, who shared stories about him. Once Cathy asked her mom about a bathrobe she’d found in a closet. “Oh,” Phyllis said, “that’s your father’s…. I suppose there’s no reason to keep it.” Susan also had her own memories, however sketchy. One moment still stuck with her—that final look as he left the house for the B-29 flight, she waving to