Saturday, February 11, 2006

I Wish This Was A Hoax

According to published reports ( VA Nurse Investigated for "Sedition" For Criticizing Bush; N.M. Sen. Wants Probe into VA 'Sedition' Investigation of Nurse; ACLU Wants Apology to VA Employee Investigated on 'Sedition'; Big Brother Is Watching ) a clinical nurse specialist employed for 15 years by the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico has been accused by her superiors, in writing, of suspicion of "sedition."

Because she wrote a letter to a small "alternative press" weekly paper, the Albuquerque Weekly Alibi, saying that, in light of the federal response to the disasters following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush was doing a terrible job and he should be thrown out of office. You can see the full text of her letter below.

It was published in the Sept 15, 2005 edition of the Alibi. From the Alibi's story:
Although Berg has chosen not to comment at this time, Bach and Kronen say that a few days after the letter was published, VA Information Security employees seized Berg's computer at the local VA hospital where she works. At the time, she was told this action occurred because of suspicions that she'd composed the letter to the Alibi on government time, on government premises, using government equipment.

According to [George] Bach and [Larry] Kronen [representing Berg on behalf of the N.M. ACLU], on Sept. 19, 2005, Berg's American Federation of Government Employees Union representative, Thomas Driber, informed Berg that her letter to the Alibi had been sent through "VA channels" to the FBI in Washington, D.C.

The attorneys say this information was confirmed by one of the union's Washington lawyers during a conference call between Driber, Berg and the union lawyer. (Multiple phone messages left at Driber's office by the Alibi were not answered.)

As if that weren't creepy enough, the attorneys say Berg made further inquiries and eventually received a response from the VA's Chief of Human Resources, Mel R. Hooker, who, in a memorandum dated Nov. 9, 2005, allegedly admitted that the VA had no evidence the letter was written on Berg's office computer. Despite this, Hooker claimed the investigation was justified because the "Agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act which potentially represents sedition."
Sedition, according to the Concise Law Dictionary, is "the federal crime of advocacy of insurrection against the government or support for an enemy of the nation during time of war, by speeches, publications and organization. Sedition usually involves actually conspiring to disrupt the legal operation of the government and is beyond expression of an opinion or protesting government policy.” From the text of the Berg's letter, it would certainly not appear to meet either the requirements of advocating insurrection or "supporting an enemy" during a time of war -- unless I've missed something, rhetoric about "the war on terror" on the government’s part doesn't meet the requirements of a formal declaration of war by the U.S. Congress.

Notice that it took 2 months for the VA administration to acknowledge that they had no evidence that Berg had used her VA office computer to compose or send the letter, even though her computer was returned the very next day. When you review the letter it is transparent that she neither claims nor implies, that, in writing the letter, she is either speaking on behalf of or acting as an agent of the VA in this matter, but is writing as a private citizen. Her mentioning her position as a VA nurse is simply to lend weight to her contention that PTSD will be a factor in recovery of the survivors in years to come.

Hooker has since denied that the FBI was initially contacted by anyone at the VA and now apparently has no idea how the FBI were contacted. When the staff at the Alibi attempted to contact Hooker for clarification they were referred to the VA’s Public Affairs office, where Sonja Brown replied, via e-mail:
"While VA does not prohibit employees from exercising their freedom of speech, we do ask that such activity occurs outside government premises and not during their official tour of duty. When we have reason to believe that this policy is not being adhered to, we have the obligation to review an individual's computer activity."
When the Alibi tried to get Brown to clarify either why there was reason to believe that Berg had used VA time or equipment to compose and send the letter, or why it would be seen as “sedition” she was unresponsive to their requests.

The ACLU is asking that the VA apologize, at least, for the accusations and treatment, and is also seeking copies of all materials that the VA has pertaining to this matter.

On February 7, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson for a thorough inquiry of his agency's investigation into whether or not Laura Berg had committed “sedition,” saying he was concerned about the agency’s decision to open the investigation at all.

Sen. Bingaman was quoted in an AP story run in the Albuquerque Journal:
Merely opposing government policies and expressing a desire to change course "does not provide reason to believe that a person is involved in illegal subversive activity,'' he said.

Bingaman said such investigations raise "a very real possibility of chilling legitimate political speech.''

"In a democracy, expressing disagreement with the government's actions does not amount to sedition or insurrection,'' he wrote. "It is, and must remain, protected speech. Although it may be permissible to implement restrictions regarding a government employee's political activities during work hours or on government premises, such employees do not surrender their right to freedom of speech when they enlist in government service.''

Bingaman said he wants the matter investigated so VA officials will have guidance about handling similar situations in the future.
To the VA’s credit, Berg has not lost her job. But you can be sure that the memorandum about the suspicion of “sedition” will stay in her permanent record at the VA, and that allegation will be seen, and considered whenever she gets a new boss at the VA or if she were to apply for any other job in the federal government.

Nobody would question the VA’s concern about if the letter were written on her employer’s time or equipment, that is a concern that is, if not commonplace, at least well-known in today’s workplace. The imperative questions now, however, are why the “investigation” took such a draconian turn at the start and why did this implication of “sedition” occur?

Recently we have seen allegations of someone getting into trouble with the federal government because of requesting a copy of Mao's "little red book," which has proven to be a hoax, and accusations that the U.S. armed forces are covering up conditions that are endangering our women soldiers, which may be suspect because of an "agenda" on he part of the officer reporting it, but no so for Laura Berg's woes. I'd really like to classify this one as one of the hoaxes but I don't think I can. Pity, that.

Thanks to Night Bird’s Fountain where I first saw this story.


Text of Laura Berg's letter:
Wake Up, Get Real

Dear Alibi,

I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government. The Katrina tragedy in the U.S. shows that the emperor has no clothes! Bush and his team partied and delayed while millions of people were displaced, hundreds of thousands were abandoned to a living hell. Thousands more died of drowning, dehydration, hunger and exposure; most bodies remain unburied and rotting in attics and floodwater. Is this America the beautiful?

The risk of hurricane disaster was clearly predicted, yet funds for repair work for the Gulf States barrier islands and levee system were unconscionably diverted to the Iraq War. Money and manpower and ethics have been diverted to fight a war based on absolute lies! As a VA nurse working with returning OIF vets, I know the public has no sense of the additional devastating human and financial costs of post-traumatic stress disorder; now we will have hundreds of thousands of our civilian citizens with PTSD as well as far too many young soldiers, maimed physically or psychologically—or both—spreading their pain, anger and isolation through family and communities for generations. And most of this natural disaster and war tragedy has been preventable ... how very, very sad!

In the meantime, our war-fueled federal deficit mushrooms—and whither this debt now, as we care for the displaced and destroyed?

Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown and Rice should be tried for criminal negligence. This country needs to get out of Iraq now and return to our original vision and priorities of caring for land and people and resources rather than killing for oil. Katrina itself was the size of New Mexico. Denials of global warming are ludicrous and patently irrational at this point. We can anticipate more wild, destructive weather to occur as a response stress of the planet. We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit. Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times.

Laura Berg

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