Suing no man's land
November 6, 1997
Web posted at: 4:58 a.m. EST (0958 GMT)
From Correspondent Rusty Dornin
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- To the U.S. government, it does not exist. To the outside world, it's known as Area 51.
It is a top-secret military installation in the Nevada dessert -- believed to be home to both the Stealth Fighter and rumors of an alien spacecraft.
Information about the base is scarce. In fact, it seems as if U.S. government attorneys defending the lawsuit are also in the dark
"They came back and said the most extraordinary thing I've ever seen in a court of law. They said no one in the United States government has any idea what Project 51 means," says law professor Jonathan Turley.
Information about this murky area, however, is exactly what Turley wants from the federal government.
Turley is suing the government on behalf of several Area 51 employees, who say they witnessed and in some cases participated in the dumping and burning of toxic waste at the base.
Now, Turley wants the government to admit to the dumping and get a court order to prevent it from happening again. He also wants information about what toxic waste his clients were exposed to and help in paying their medical bills.
"These workers were told repeatedly that since this place does not exist, federal laws do not apply here," Turley says.
Before his death, base worker Robert Frost broke out in mysterious sores. His wife Helen believes that they were caused by his inhalation of toxic fumes.
"I kept telling him, you've got to hang in there till we find out what's wrong. and he said, I can't do it anymore...and he died that day," she recalls.
President Bill Clinton exempted the facility from the release of classified documents under the Military States Secrets Act, which says that the United States government does not have to release any evidence.
Federal appeals court judges in San Francisco told Turley that because the act was invoked, the case could never be tried in court. Turley, however, hopes to get the government to confirm the mere presence of hazardous waste at the base.
"It will confirm the final fact that crimes were committed at this facility that may have killed two people," Turley says. "President Clinton knows there were crimes committed at this facility."
Department of Justice attorney Robert Alarquist declined to comment on the case. When asked whether Area 51 existed, he replied, "I don't know."
Folks who live in the shadow of the top secret military installation are not surprised by the lack of information about it.
"As long as Area 51 remains secret, there's no obligation for it to obey the environmental laws, the labor laws or the workers rights' laws that everybody
else has to obey," says Nevada resident Glenn Campbell.
The San Francisco appeals court is not likely to rule on the case until early next year, adding more uncertainty to a place deserving of the name "no man's land."