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 V.15 No.26 | June 29 - July 5, 2006 


Turning Heroes into Pariahs

Blowing the whistle on government corruption just got a whole lot harder

Sibel Edmonds is a beautiful woman, even with the gag pulled tight across her face. Normally, the mainstream press would be covering Hot-Damsel-in-Distress Edmonds 24/7, but Edmonds has been deemed an invisible person in Bushworld, and the Washington press hasn't been noted for its courage these last few years.

Edmonds, a Turkish-American translator hired by the FBI shortly after the 9/11 attacks, testified to Congress, the Justice Department and the 9/11 Commission that the FBI was deliberately slowing down their Middle Eastern language translators to get more funding. They'd even erased translations she had completed during the day from her computer at night. For her whistle-blowing pains, Edmonds was fired, and her publicly available testimony retroactively reclassified.

Two federal actions mark out the boundaries of the whistle-blower fight. In 2002, following the Enron corruption geyser, Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) sponsored a bill to rein in corporate and securities fraud. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, also known as the Whistleblower Protection Act, encourages corporate employees to report fraud and prohibits retaliation against whistle-blowers.

So everything's ducky, right? Ha! Enter the Bush Supreme Court. In October 2005, a Supreme Court ruling split 4-4 on an appeals court decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos had persisted in complaints to superiors that a deputy sheriff lied to obtain a search warrant. Ceballos claimed that, in retaliation, he was removed from the case, demoted and transferred.

On May 30, 2006, the Supreme Court heard the case again, this time without Justice Sandra Day O'Connor but with new Bush appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito. The court ruled against Ceballos, saying the First Amendment does not protect the right of government employees to speak out on job-related matters against their bosses' wishes. The ruling basically silences government employees like Sibel Edmonds who speak out to protect the public good. Or like Richard Foster, the government's chief Medicare cost analyst, who said he was threatened with firing if he told Congress that Bush's drug bill would cost $534 billion instead of $400 billion.

The court majority argued that they didn't want to gum up the legal system by allowing any disgruntled employees to challenge a demotion or firing. As a result, the most secretive administration in living memory has a much better chance of keeping their screwups and corruption hidden from the public.

Thankfully, on June 23 the U.S. Senate added an amendment to the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act that would restore protection for government employee whistleblowers. The bill passed the Senate 96-0. It will have to be reconciled with similar bills in the House.

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