Archive Logo.jpg

March 08, 2006

VA Nurse investigated for sedition...

Ry sends along a link to an article about a VA nurse in New Mexico being investigated for... sedition. Woo-woo! Heady stuff!

A Veterans Affairs nurse in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was investigated for sedition after she wrote a letter to a local newspaper criticizing the Bush administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war. In her first broadcast interview, we speak with Laura Berg, as well as an attorney with the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.


To continue:

The response to Berg's letter was harsh. Her office computer was seized. And the government announced it was investigating her for sedition - that's right, sedition.

V.A. human resources chief Mel Hooker wrote in a letter to Berg, "the Agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act which potentially represents sedition."

Operative words... bound by law. Um, why?

Based solely on the info in the article, this is probably what triggered it: "act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit."

If you want the rest of my bloviation - it's in the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry.

A reasonable person can ask themselves, based on no other context provided - did the nurse advocate the violent overthrow of the government? If so, that's sedition.

The interviewer, Amy Goodman, quotes from the VA HR document:


AMY GOODMAN: Let me read again from the memo of November 9 from the Chief of Human Resources Management Service. “In your letter to the editor of the weekly Alibi,” the memo says, “you declared yourself a V.A. nurse and publicly declared the government, which employs you, to have tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence and advocated ‘act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.’ The agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act, which potentially represents sedition. You are reminded that government equipment is just that, and the government may apprehend, investigate use or permit the use of such at its discretion and direction. Signed, Mel Hooker, Chief of Human Resources Management Service. “ Your response to this letter, saying -- to investigate you for sedition?

Her office computer was not "seized". It belongs to the government, and she's had all the usual disclaimers provided. The ACLU lawyer acknowledges that in the article, btw. The government can do what it damn well pleases with that machine. Obviously they were checking for evidence that she wrote the letter on her office machine. *That* is a violation (admittedly policed by exception) of the terms of use for the machine - and it's perfectly legit for any employer to act on that impulse.

If they were really gunning for Ms. Berg, they would have taken her home computer.

Are they being perhaps a little overly officious? Probably. But mid-level bureaucrats are like that everywhere, in government or without. Especially if the first they heard about it was from the FBI, vice reading the letter in the local fishwrap, they probably decided to completely safeside it.

If I were her bosses, her day would have been like this:

"Good morning. Interesting letter you wrote. Official Question: Was it your intent to advocate the violent overthrow of the US Government, your employer, or was just some political hyperbole? Take your time."

"No? Just some powerful words? Kewl. Now, did you use official US Government property to produce this letter? Like, didya type it and email it from the office? Again take yer time."

An affirmative answer to either of those questions results in disciplinary action, appropriate to the full circumstances in the case - anywhere from a 'slap on the wrist' to termination, to prosecution as appropriate.

Regardless, she's going to get admonished (as she was) about identifying herself as a VA nurse. She could have made the same points without that. I know, she did it for credibility, etc.

LAURA BERG: Yes, I am, Amy. And, you know, as I say, subsequent to these memos, I have had a personal discussion with Mary Dowling, and she has said --

AMY GOODMAN: And again, her position with the V.A.?

LARRY KRONEN [ACLU Lawyer - I think they mean Ms. Berg]: She is my director at the Albuquerque V.A. And she said, you know, you may express your opinion, but we prefer that you do not say you are a V.A. nurse. And so, I am saying I am a V.A. nurse. And some of my fire in writing this letter about Katrina in Iraq is from my experience as a V.A. nurse. I'm stepping -- I'm stepping, you know, off the edge here, and I do feel that there is some jeopardy to me and my position. [emphasis mine] But at this point it’s more important for me to say this. You know, and if I have to risk my job, the V.A. is going to lose an excellent commission, you know, that does not bring politics into the workplace, you know, and is a very caring person. And this country, you know, will lose many, many dedicated, caring people, you know, if this continues. And, I mean, we are going to lose a lot more than that. We are going to lose a whole lot.

However, there is also this at work, I think. If you are the kind of person who feels that because you are right in your thinking and beliefs, and any rulez which get crosswise with that do not apply to you (but they probably would to the co-worker who wrote a letter supporting the war on office time and equipment, but perhaps not in this person's case) you get both scared and annoyed to find that there is *any* limitation on your speech, so you run puling to the nearest office of the ACLU/Protest Group, who happily takes up your banner, because if you go down, they have a Martyr to the Cause, and if you are (somehow) vindicated, even better. Win-win for them, regardless of outcome.

Let's look at this one more time:

And she said, you know, you may express your opinion, but we prefer that you do not say you are a V.A. nurse.

And Ms Berg no Takes A Stand Against Injustice and Venality:

And so, I am saying I am a V.A. nurse. And some of my fire in writing this letter about Katrina in Iraq is from my experience as a V.A. nurse. I'm stepping -- I'm stepping, you know, off the edge here, and I do feel that there is some jeopardy to me and my position.

And if she gets fired, she'll probably not understand why.

She certainly doesn't understand the First Amendment.

LAURA BERG: Well, people, you know -- I mean, we believe we have, you know, First Amendment right to free speech. But we have been -- you know, to have harassment or intimidation –

She does have a right to free speech. The VA administrator, Ms. Dowling, agreed with that. And pretty much said "We just don't want you identifying yourself as a VA employee when you do this." A perfectly reasonable position.

Ms. Berg's letter would have gathered attention because of her unfortunate choice of words. Imagine how the Left would spin those words coming from a rightwinger? The FBI is charged with investigating things like that. Remember SWWBO and her visit from the FBI? And would (and probably has) quickly come to the conclusion, "puff of smoke, no fire" and let it go at that. Pretty much like in SWWBO's case. If Ms. Berg hadn't id'd herself as a VA nurse, the VA might not have gotten involved at all. But, she did.

The First Amendment only guarantees the right to speak freely. It doesn't protect you from other, legitimate consequences of that speech. Like, losing your job.

There's a reason I don't blog about my employer or my client. I have the right to do so, within the constraints of the national security aspects of my work, but if I were to come out and speak about my firm as Ms. Berg did about her employer - my employer would be within their rights to fire me.

That isn't a constraint on free speech as envisioned by the Framers.

Can there be other, darker forces of intimidation at work? Sure, government employees don't have a lock on brains and good judgement (which baffles me why government employees are the court of first choice for the Left... unless they are working for a right-wing political master, then apparently the get stoopid overnight, but I digress). But I don't see any problem here thus far. I see someone who didn't think through the consequences of her actions. Welcome to the Big Leagues, kiddo.

Do I know how she feels? In a way. This blog, along with a couple of others, is specifically mentioned in the US Army Infowar training about blogs for commanders. It was eerie seeing this space through their eyes. There were some things early on I did here they weren't happy with. In retrospect, with justification. Did they have a right to look into it? You betcha. And I have changed what makes this space - not because of the brief, I did it before I saw that - but because the whole paradigm was changing, and properly so. Have I been contacted officially about it? Nope. Nor do I expect to be. But I do know that what I put up here publicly has consequences. Which is why sometimes I comment on comments - to help myself, and you guys, avoid consequences you weren't thinking about when you treat the comment space as if it were a simple face-to-face conversation.

Read the referenced article here.