Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sibel Edmonds Case & Destruction of Evidence

There's been a lot of talk this week about the destruction of the CIA torture/interrogation videos, and a number of people have vaguely asked 'Doesn't Sibel Edmonds fit in here somewhere?'

The short answer is no. Sibel was no longer at the FBI when these events took place.

However, the possibility of destruction of evidence is something that came up in Sibel's case.

In the summer of 2002, Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Charles Grassley, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, held some hearings into Sibel's case. In August 2002, they jointly wrote to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, urging him to ensure that the evidence in Sibel's case was not destroyed.

Leahy and Grassley wrote:
"(W)e are concerned about the most crucial evidence in the case -- the recordings that were allegedly improperly translated. Because these bear directly on the veracity of Ms. Edmonds' allegations, we seek your assurance that the recordings will be properly maintained, turned over to the Inspector General's Office... "

Obstruction of justice is a serious felony, as any first year law student is aware. For example, 18 U.S.C. sec. 1502(c):
“Whoever corruptly . . . alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so... or otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

Here we have the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee warning the Attorney General of the United States not to commit, enable, or allow, a felony. I presume that this would normally go without saying (particularly back in 2002, prior to all the accumulated evidence of administration malfeasance coming to light.)

Why would Leahy and Grassley say such a thing? Because they knew the details of Sibel's case. They realized that many powerful people in Washington would quite likely attempt to destroy all the evidence.

As far as we know (so far), no documents were destroyed, but Ashcroft went one better. In October 2002, Ashcroft invoked the State Secrets Privilege, "the nuclear bomb of legal tactics." In fact, Ashcroft went one step further, eventually even retroactively classifying this letter from Leahy and Grassley.

In the case of the recent news of the destruction of the video tapes by the CIA, Marty Lederman writes:

"(The CIA) must have gotten DOJ approval (Gonzales, anyway) for the destruction. And the POTUS and/or VP, too. And all of these folks they knew full well what the fallout might be. And they knew about criminal laws involving obstruction. Most importantly, they were actually destroying what might be incredibly valuable evidence for future uses -- valuable for criminal trials, for intelligence investigations...

And yet they chose to destroy anyway, after what must have been a lot of internal debate. Which goes to show that . . . the cover-up is not worse than the crime, and they knew it. Those tapes must have depicted pretty gruesome evidence of serious criminal conduct. Conduct that would be proof positive of serious breaches of at least two treaties. Conduct approved and implemented at the highest levels of government.


Obstruction of justice, and the scandal we're about to witness, was a price they concluded was well worth paying."

Again, we don't know of any destruction of evidence in Sibel's case, but the very invocation of the State Secrets Privilege by Ashcroft may itself be Obstruction of Justice. Daniel Ellsberg thinks so:
"It would seem to me that John Ashcroft could be indicted on obstruction of justice"

Just as in the case of the destruction of the CIA tapes, the obstruction in Sibel's case was designed to protect guilty parties at the highest levels of multiple agencies. Here's Phil Giraldi:
The 'State Secret Privilege' was invoked not by the FBI but by the Pentagon and the State Department. They requested that Sibel Edmonds not be able to speak of this issue.

Not incidentally, these very same people who demanded that Sibel be silenced are the same people she accuses of treason.

Here's Ellsberg again:
"From what I understand, from what she has to tell, it has a major difference from the Pentagon Papers in that it deals directly with criminal activity and may involve impeachable offenses. And I don't necessarily mean the President or the Vice-President, though I wouldn't be surprised if the information reached up that high. But other members of the Executive Branch may be impeached as well. And she says similar about Congress."

There's another direct analogy between the obstruction in Sibel's case and the obstruction relating to the destruction of the CIA tapes. In both cases, the obstruction was in direct response to an imminent ruling by the courts, one of the other 'co-equal' branches.

Here's Scott Horton describing the timing of the destruction of the CIA tapes:
"Indeed, as facts developed yesterday, the proximity of the decision to destroy the tapes and the demands of U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema that any tapes be turned over grew painfully apparent to everyone. My sources are telling me that the actual destruction occurred in mid- to late-November 2005. This would be after Judge Brinkema pressed the Justice Department in court over its compliance with production requests from the defense. High on the list of open questions was whether the Justice Department had turned over tapes of the interrogation sessions, which had been specifically requested. Brinkema issued an order requiring this. It’s a reasonable inference that the decision to destroy was taken in direct reaction to Judge Brinkema’s direction that the tapes be handed over. Hence it was an act of calculated defiance of a federal court order. This is a serious crime with respect to which a defense is hard to envision. And every actor who was complicit in the decision would face potential jail time."

Similarly, Ashcroft's retroactive classification of information in Sibel's case was ordered immediately prior to a legal deadline. In an attempt to at least try to separate any legitimate State Secrets claims from the government's nonsense claims, the judge had asked that any relevant unclassified and/or previously published information be presented to the court. The government's response was simply to say that everything was now classified.

This is the stuff of banana republics.

Of course, it's not just the executive branch. As we've seen in the latest revelations regarding the CIA video tapes, both parties in Congress are also complicit. The judiciary isn't much better. And who can argue with Amy Goodman's admonition of the media:
"If we had a state-run media, how would it be any different?"


After trying for years to have hearings in congress, Sibel has offered to tell all that she knows if she is given an appropriate outlet in the media. That offer is now 6 weeks old, and I'm not holding my breath. Keith Olbermann appeared to be the best bet, but even his team is now stonewalling.

Olbermann recently did a good segment with Jonathan Turley on the State Secrets Privilege, so I left a message on Professor Turley's blog. He replied:

I am familiar with Sibel Edmonds and have tried to follow her case. It is quite a story and equally disturbing."

I'm currently trying to organise an interview with Prof. Turley to discuss the case, but much more importantly, Turley is a favourite of Olbermann's Countdown. If you are so inclined, you might contact Countdown (Countdown@msnbc.com) and ask that:

a) Sibel appear on the show to 'tell all' or that
b) Prof Turley be invited on the show to discuss Sibel's case .

Congress will be on recess soon, so it's important that this happens in the next couple of days. If you'd like to leave Prof Turley a comment at his terrific new blog, you can find it here.

In related news, John Laesch (D), who ran against Hastert in IL-14 in 2006, and will also be running in the special election created by Hastert's departure, recently wrote:
"I hope Sibel testifies and breaks the gag order."

"Everybody Knows" about Sibel's case, and we need to use the momentum that we have to break through this week, before Congress breaks for Christmans. Frankly, if we don't break through this week, I'm not sure that we ever will.

Please do what you can to make it happen.

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