Thursday, April 21, 2005

None of Your Business, Pt. II 

James Ridgeway on the latest bizarre developments in the Sibel Edmonds case:
The unsettling story of whistleblower Sibel Edmonds took another twist on Thursday, as the government continued its seemingly endless machinations to shut her up. The U.S. Court of Appeals here denied pleas to open the former FBI translator's First Amendment case to the public, a day after taking the extraordinary step of ordering a secret hearing . . . .

Oral arguments in her suit against the federal government were scheduled for this morning, but yesterday the clerk of the appeals court unexpectedly and suddenly announced the hearing would be closed. Only attorneys and Edmonds were allowed in.

No one thought the three-judge appeals court panel would be especially sympathetic to the Edmonds case. It consists of Douglas Ginsburg, who was once nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court by President Reagan. He withdrew after it was revealed he had smoked pot as a college student; he later joined the appeals court. Another member, David Sentelle, was chair of the three-judge panel that appointed Ken Starr to be the special prosecutor investigating Clinton. Karen LeCraft Henderson was appointed a federal judge during the Reagan period, then put on the appeals court by the elder President Bush . . . .

[After 9/11, in her capacity as an FBI translator, Edmonds] began observing the bureau’s bizarre, even surreal practices, including such things as sending people to Guantanamo to translate statements by prisoners who spoke Farsi. Only trouble was the translators weren't speakers of Farsi, but were instead Kurds speaking a Turkish dialect. She stumbled across various mistranslations and interpreters who were not able to make accurate translations. Then she discovered someone was signing her initials to approve translations she never made. And she observed translations being doctored or blocked by the actions by one translator or another. She discovered one translator whose relative was working for an embassy which the FBI had under surveillance . . . .

"The federal government is routinely retaliating against government employees who uncover weaknesses in our ability to prevent terrorist attacks or protect public safety," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the ACLU. "From firing whistleblowers to using special privileges to cover up mistakes, the government is taking extreme steps to shield itself from political embarrassment while gambling with our safety."
Later today Edmonds's attorneys claimed that there was no legitimate reason for the hearings to be closed, because no classified information or national security secrets were discussed:
At the same time, a coalition of 13 media outlets, led by The Washington Post and including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, quickly filed a motion to open the oral arguments to the public. Public-interest groups Public Citizen and the Project on Government Oversight, which had previously written a friend-of-the court brief siding with Edmonds, filed a similar motion.

"Even assuming there were some compelling government interest that necessitates sealing a portion of the oral argument, sealing the argument in its entirety is not narrowly tailored to serve that interest, as the First Amendment requires," the media coalition stated in its brief.

In a one-page written decision issued early today, the court granted the media's motion to intervene but refused to open the arguments or hold a hearing on the matter. It gave no explanation for its decision.

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