10 February 2006

It Just Doesn't Stop Coming (Sedition Charges)

Laura Berg is a clinical nurse specialist at the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, where she has worked for 15 years.

Shortly after Katrina, she wrote a letter to the editor of the weekly paper the Alibi criticizing the Bush Administration.

After the paper published the letter in its September 15-21 issue, VA administrators seized her computer, alleged that she had written the letter on that computer, and accused her of “sedition.”

Here’s what her letter said.

“I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government,” it began. “The Katrina tragedy in the U.S. shows that the emperor has no clothes!” She mentioned that she was “a VA nurse” working with returning vets. “The public has no sense of the additional devastating human and financial costs of post-traumatic stress disorder,” she wrote, and she worried about the hundreds of thousands of additional cases that might result from Katrina and the Iraq War.

“Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown, and Rice should be tried for criminal negligence,” she wrote. “This country needs to get out of Iraq now and return to our original vision and priorities of caring for land and people and resources rather than killing for oil. . . . We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.

Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times.”

After her computer was seized, Berg wrote a memo to her bosses seeking information and an explanation.

Mel Hooker, chief of the human resources management service at the Albuquerque VA, wrote Berg back on November 9 and acknowledged that “your personal computer files did not contain the editorial letter written to the editor of the weekly Alibi.”

But rather than apologize, he leveled the sedition charge: “The Agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act which potentially represents sedition,” he said. “In your letter . . . you declared yourself ‘as a VA 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.’ ”

Colorado's sedition statute (yes, we have one, which I suspect is farly typical) reads as follows:

Every person who, in this state, either orally or by writing, printing, exhibiting, or circulating written or printed words or picture, or otherwise, shall advocate, teach, incite, propose, aid, abet, encourage, or advise resistent by physical force to, or the destruction or overthrow by physical force of, constituted government in general, or the government or laws of the United States, or of this state, under circumstances constituing a clear and present danger that violent action will result therefrom, commits sedition.

Colorado Revised Statutes Section 18-11-201(1). It is a class 5 felony, which means that the minimum sentence is one year of imprisonment, the maximum sentence is three years of imprisonment, and the mandatory parole period is two years (extraordinary circumstances found by a judge would permit a sentence of six months to four and a half years). It is not classified as a crime of violence in Colorado.

Needless to say, I don't think that there was a clear and present danger that violent action would result from the letter, or that it fit the definition of sedition. Also, since when was the Veteran's Administration in charge of rooting out sedition? The last time I checked, that was the job of the Justice Department, or perhaps the Department of Homeland Security (what a miserable name). Maybe the guy who sent the e-mail is confused about which agency he works for (or maybe the VA is just a huge cover operation for the CIA).

Thanks to the Progressive.org for the story.

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