Canary in the Coalmine: DOJ whistleblower gave early warning that Bush’s ‘terror war’ based on lies
By Mike Mejia
In the world of exposing government corruption and illegal war-mongering, there are whistleblowers and there are media hounds who liked to be portrayed as ‘whistleblowers’. The distinction is clear: the true whistleblower stands up against malfeasance when it really counts and can possibly make a difference. These brave truth tellers face being ostracized, harassed, fired, their marriages and family lives being destroyed, and health problems that crop up from the excessive stress. The media hounds, on the other hand, do not speak up until is already too late to make a difference in stopping a war or a wrongful conviction, but when there is plenty of time to write a book and make a small fortune and later perhaps become a news analyst for a major network. The names that come to mind in this latter category…well, I won’t name names but you can think of a few without much trouble. Unfortunately, these pseudo-whistleblowers appear to get a lot of attention from the progressive community, and we rush out to buy their bestsellers, and forget that blowing the whistle when a policy has already become unpopular is much easier and lucrative than it is to blow the whistle before the disastrous results of the wrong-headed policy become apparent.
In my view, the whistleblowers that deserve real attention and support from those of us in the antiwar community are the ones who sound the alarm when it can really make a difference and prevent a war or other outrageous act against Americans. Sibel Edmonds falls in this latter category. So does Russ Tice. Another whistleblower of this caliber is former Department of Justice lawyer Jesselyn Radack, a very brave former government employee who in early 2002 exposed the ‘war on terror’ for what it really is: a war of the Bush Administration on the U.S. Constitution. Radack is a genuine hero who took an unpopular stance and stood up for the rights of an unpopular person, John Walker Lindh, because she understood that greater principle were at stake.
In her recently self-published book, “Canary in the Coalmine: Blowing the Whistle in the Case of American Taliban”, Ms. Radack lays out the whole sordid story of how she came to blow the whistle on the U.S. Department of Justice’s unconscionable trampling of Mr. Lindh’s rights, and the subsequent cover-up and retaliation against her that was led, disappointingly, by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General. The story is somewhat complex, but basically Radack was part of an ethics office and advised a DOJ prosecutor in 2001 after Lindh was turned over to U.S. forces by an Afghan warlord that, since the American Taliban had counsel retained for him by his father, the FBI could not question him without access to his attorney. The FBI ignored the advice and interviewed Lindh anyway, reading him an amended (and illegal) form of his Miranda rights to claim Lindh authorized the questioning. Instead of admitting to the error, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department went into cover-up mode and attempted to use the illegally extracted statements from Lindh in attempt to conduct a modern day, high-tech lynching of the young man.
The fact that Lindh had never raised a hand against any American soldier, nor had participated in any terror attack, seems to have escaped Ashcroft. Lindh was going to be the poster boy for what a great job Ashcroft’s team was doing, since the former Attorney General could not get his hands on any real terrorists. Thus, the cover-up began, and Jess Radack became a liability to her bosses. Eventually, Radack left the Justice Department in disgust, but not without retaining a few choice emails “that directly contradicted the public position ultimately taken by the Attorney General, and someone desperately wanted to hide that the [ethics office] had ever taken a contrary stance…” These email were later sent to Michael Isikoff of Newsweek just when it seemed Mr. Lindh was about to be railroaded by the U.S. government. Although it is not certain whether Radack’s “leak” to Isikoff helped Lindh get a deal from the U.S. government that kept the harshest of sentences at bay (Lindh got 20 years where he faced life imprisonment), it certainly could not have hurt.
Instead of being congratulated for her bravery, Radack next faced an ugly smear and harassment campaign orchestrated by America’s alleged guardians of justice. Most importantly, the Inspector General (IG) worked hard to get her fired from her job at a private law firm. The Justice Department also led the charge to have her disbarred and threatened criminal charges. None of these actions by the government had any substantive merit, but the harassment was very effective in making Radack’s life miserable. But Radack did not fold. As her account makes apparent, the combination of her religious beliefs and aid from family and friends kept her going through the tough times. Ultimately, she prevailed, though a complaint made by the DOJ to the D.C. bar is still pending.
There are many sad parts of Radack’s story. The most discouraging to me is the lack of backbone many of the Democrats showed in digging into this issue. For example, Senator Ted Kennedy asked then Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff a series of questions about Chertoff’s role in the Lindh matter when Chertoff was nominated by Bush for a federal judgeship. Chertoff’s answers to Kennedy constituted either evasiveness or outright perjury. Despite Chertoff being exposed as a liar and a charlatan, however, he was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate, first as a judge, then as Director of Homeland Security. Apparently, the fact that Chertoff was a relative ‘moderate’ compared to ‘extremists’ like Alberto Gonzalez led to the Democrats turning a blind eye to Chertoff’s unethical behavior. The Senate’s 98-0 confirmation of Chertoff as head of Homeland Security later blew up in all our faces when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Radack war right about Chertoff, but it didn’t make a difference.
Despite the disappointing response of our elected representatives to the allegations of whistleblowers, Radack’s book is another reminder that there are people in government out there who truly are looking out for all of our interests. These people, if listened to, could act as a real check on the misbehavior of the Executive Branch. Why more of us ordinary citizens don’t listen to them is beyond me. But Ms. Radack has recently started a diary on DailyKOS and has been getting very positive responses. Let’s hope this type of positive interaction between Radack and the citizen activists can be a model that can be followed by future whistleblowers. After all, if potential whistleblowers can know they have wide support in the internet community, perhaps more will come forward. If that happens, we will all be better off.