I Had to Tell the Truth About Iraq--Even Though it Cost Me My Career
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Each of us initially thought that the agencies we worked for would be concerned about what we had stumbled upon or uncovered and would want to work with us to resolve it. If most of us are now disillusioned, we weren’t at the outset. Only by the force of events did we become transformed into opponents of an out-of-control government with no tolerance for those who would expose the truth necessary to create Thomas Jefferson’s informed citizenry. In meeting my club-mates, I learned that whistleblowers are not born, but created by a government with much to hide and an unquenchable need to hide it.
One of those whistleblowers, Jesselyn Radack, wrote a book about her experiences called Traitor: The Whistleblower and the American Taliban. At the dawn of the War on Terror, Radack, an attorney at the Department of Justice (DOJ), wrote a memo stating that John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” captured in Afghanistan, had rights and could not be interrogated without the benefit of counsel.
The FBI went ahead and questioned him anyway, and then DOJ tried to disappear Radack’s emails documenting this Constitutional violation. Ignoring her advice, the government tossed away the rights of one of its own citizens. Radack herself was subsequently forced out the DOJ, harassed, and had to fight simply to keep her law license.
As proof that God does indeed enjoy irony, Radack today helps represent most of the current crop of government whistleblowers (including me) in their struggles against the government she once served. Radack and I are now working with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker James Spione on a documentary about whistleblowers.
What Will Be Left Behind
So what’s left for me in my final days as a grounded State Department worker assigned to timeout in my own home? Given my situation, there is, of course, no desk to clean out; there are no knickknacks collected abroad over my 24 years to package up. All that’s left is one last test to see if the system, especially the First Amendment guaranteeing us the right to free speech, still has a heartbeat in 2012.
Though I could be terminated by State within a few weeks, I am otherwise only months away from a semi-voluntary retirement. Since I’m obviously out the door anyway, State’s decision to employ its internal security tools and expensive, taxpayer-paid legal maneuvers at this late date can’t really be about shortening my tenure by a meager four months. Instead, it’s clearly about mounting my head on a pike inside the lobby of State’s Foggy Bottom headquarters as a warning to its other employees not to dissent, or mention wrongdoing they might stumble across. Better, so the message goes, to sip the Kool Aid and keep one’s head down, while praising the courage of Chinese dissidents and Egyptian bloggers. The State Department is all about wanting its words, not its actions, to speak loudest.
Running parallel to the State Department termination process is an investigation by the Office of the Special Counsel into my claim of retaliation, which State is seeking to circumvent by tossing me out the door ahead of its conclusion. State wants to use my fate to send a message to its already cowed staff. However, if the Special Counsel concludes that the State Department did retaliate against me, then the message delivered will be quite a different one. It just might indicate that the First Amendment still does reach ever so slightly into the halls of government, and maybe the next responsible Foreign Service Officer will carry that forward a bit further, which would be good for our democracy.