9/11 Victims' Families and National Security Whistleblowers Demand End to Government Silencing of Employees Who Expose Security Risks
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Groups Call for Hearings on the Justice Department's Handling of Sibel Edmonds' Case
WASHINGTON- An unprecedented group of national security whistleblowers and family members of 9/11 victims gathered today to demand that the government stop silencing employees who expose national security blunders and called on Congress to hold hearings into the government's actions against whistleblowers. Watch excerpts from the press conference >>
"The government is taking extreme steps to shield itself from political embarrassment while gambling with our safety," said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The government has fired whistleblowers, retroactively classified public information and used special privileges not to protect us but to cover-up mistakes."
The ACLU is urging the D.C. Court of Appeals to reinstate the case of Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator who was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing. Fourteen 9/11 family member advocacy groups and public interest organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief this month in support of Edmonds. Many of them joined her today at a news conference in Washington, along with national security whistleblowers Michael German, Coleen Rowley, Manny Johnson, Robert Woo, Ray McGovern, Mel Goodman and Bogdan Dzakovic, among others.
The ACLU and many of the groups signing the brief today called for Congressional hearings to determine whether the Justice Department withheld from the lower court its knowledge of an internal report concluding that Edmonds was fired for her whistleblowing. The groups are also seeking an investigation into whether the Justice Department retroactively classified documents to perpetuate a cover-up in Edmonds' case.
"The issues surrounding the Edmonds case are so significant that Congress must hold hearings to investigate the government's actions," said Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight, a watchdog group that signed the appeal brief. "As the people's representatives, Congress has the duty to protect whistleblowers who seek to uncover and publicize the misuse of government authority."
Edmonds, a former Middle Eastern language specialist hired by the FBI shortly after 9/11, was fired in 2002 after repeatedly reporting serious security breaches and misconduct in the agency's translation program.
"My case is one of many in which the government has fired those who uncover weaknesses in our ability to prevent terrorist attacks," Edmonds said. "If we truly want to protect America, we must first protect America's national security whistleblowers."
Edmonds challenged her retaliatory dismissal by filing suit in federal court. Last July, the district court dismissed her case when Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the so-called state secrets privilege. In legal papers, the ACLU has sharply criticized the government's radical theory that every aspect of the Edmonds case involves state secrets and therefore it cannot go forward.
The groups that signed on to the friend-of-the court brief supporting Edmonds' appeal include 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism, Coalition of 9/11 Families, National Air Disaster Alliance, September 11th Advocates, and the World Trade Center United Family Group.
"It is imperative that people aware of government misdeeds and mistakes feel they can come forward without retaliation," said Bill Doyle, whose son Joseph was a victim in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. "This is about more than employee protections. It is about national security -- something that directly impacts all of us and that 9/11 family members know firsthand."
An unclassified summary of the Justice Department's Inspector General report on Edmonds' termination, released after two years on January 14, concluded that she was fired for reporting serious security breaches and misconduct in the agency's translation program. The report also stated that the FBI's retaliation "may have the effect of discouraging others from raising concerns."
The ACLU has announced its willingness to support other national security whistleblowers and has encouraged others to come forward. The group has set up a website that includes a complaint form for whistleblowers who feel they have been retaliated against for exposing misconduct or corruption, as well as other documents in the Edmonds case, online at www.aclu.org/whistleblower.
Oral argument in Edmonds' case is scheduled for April 21, 2005. In addition to Beeson, co-counsel in the case are: Melissa Goodman and Benjamin Wizner of the national ACLU; Mark S. Zaid, Managing Partner of the Washington, D.C. law firm Krieger and Zaid; Art Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area; and Eric Seiff of New York.