Nothing puts the exclamation mark on the culture of impunity that President Barack Obama’s administration has enabled like the war on whistleblowers. As whistleblowers sit in prison or are effectively living in exile because they dared to call attention to crimes, misconduct or abuses of power, some of the very same officials implicated walk freely and live with the comfort of knowing the United States government will never seek to hold them accountable.
Jesselyn Radack is one of Snowden’s defense lawyers and the director of the Government Accountability Project’s National Security and Human Rights Division. She is also a former Justice Department employee who blew the whistle on the Justice Department’s efforts to conceal the torture of John Walker Lindh, who is also known as the “American Taliban.” She has worked on the cases of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake and CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou. She advocated for military whistleblower Chelsea Manning during her trial and has spoken up about the war on whistleblowers and how it is really a war on information that is a war on journalism as well.
Radack joins the podcast to provide an update on Snowden, mark the one-year anniversary since Manning was convicted, discuss a Human Rights Watch/ACLU report on the impact of mass surveillance on journalists and lawyers, the “Insider Threat” program and to also highlight stories involving the CIA intercepting whistleblower communications, former NSA director Keith Alexander selling classified information to companies for millions of dollars and a draconian bill in Australia aimed at preventing spy leaks.
Following the interview, the show highlights the case of oncologist Dr. Rafil Dhafir, who used his own charity to raise money for Iraqis affected by depleted uranium until the government criminalized his activity, put him on trial and had him jailed. He is currently in solitary confinement, and a phone number for the federal medical center where he is being held is provided to those who feel moved and want to urge the prison to let him out of solitary.
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On Snowden, Radack states, “Russia has indicated a number of times over the past month that it would be happy to see him remain and at this point we’re just waiting for his asylum paperwork to be processed.”
In regards to Manning’s case, Radack shares, “It’s sad to me that so much of her case still remains in the dark from the American public despite the amazing reporting done by Alexa O’Brien and yourself and others from what was a very closed court-martial in a number of ways. And it’s sad to me that, like a number of other whistleblowers prosecuted by President Obama, she’s serving a stiff 35-year sentence while people who committed war crimes and torture are out free.”
“Snowden followed in Chelsea’s footsteps in terms of doing a mass digital data disclosure, which is something that will always be Chelsea’s legacy in US history,” she adds.
As has been made clear previously, she reiterates, “Snowden is not going to come back to the US to face an Espionage Act prosecution because there simply is no public interest defense available So all of the people saying come home and face the music and just tell your story to a jury of your peers have a very romanticized notion of what an American trial is supposed to look like. And what we’ve learned from Chelsea Manning’s case is that these Espionage Act prosecutions are very locked down and it’s very difficult for the public to glean what’s going on because so much of it is done behind closed doors in secret.”
“The surveillance on journalists and lawyers has been incredibly corrosive,” she suggests. “As a lawyer, I have to do my job completely differently than I ordinarily would. I have to meet sources in person. I don’t send important stuff and documents over the internet. I function in a highly encrypted environment. I pay in cash when I meet with clients. I take crypto-phones. I engage in a number of evasive measures to try to avoid government surveillance, specifically in the representation of Edward Snowden where the government is desperate for information.”
Radack continues, “But I’ve heard very little outcry from groups like, for example, the American Bar Association about the fact there is no carve-out in mass domestic surveillance. There’s no special carve-out for journalists. There’s no special carve-out for attorneys speaking to clients or doctors speaking to patients. And the idea that these communications are being surveilled certainly dampens the ability of journalists to do their jobs as they traditionally have and of lawyers too, especially those doing human rights law or representing people that the government does not like.”
On the CIA and how they have obstructed and fought accountability for torture, she asserts that “John Kiriakou’s case puts the Senate report in such stark relief because here you have a whistleblower who exposed the fact that the US had a torture program and that the US had used waterboarding as a technique in its arsenal of ‘enhanced interrogation techiniques.’ And then, at the same time, we see that the director of the CIA spied on Congress and the CIA has intercepted whistleblower-protected disclosures by people trying to help with the [Senate] intelligence investigation into this dastardly practice.”
The Justice Department says it is not going to investigate the CIA and President Obama pledges to stand by his man, John Brennan. To this, Radack argues this shows how scandalous it is that no CIA officials have been held accountable for ordering torture.
On former NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander monetizing classified information on how to thwart hackers so he can make millions, Radack expresses her disgust.
“I find it incredible that Keith Alexander can sell secrets and is free to make a huge profit without being slammed with Espionage Act charges and Snowden is stateless,” Radack argues. “If Snowden tried to do this, he would be accused, and rightfully so, of capitalizing on US secrets and selling them to anybody.”