Saturday, February 11, 2006

This Can't Actually Be True, Can It?

Lindsay Beyerstein links to a story about a VA nurse being investigated for sedition. Her offense? She wrote a letter to the editor which included the following:
"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."

Now, I should say that I disagree with the contents of this letter. But I damn well don't think the author should be charged with sedition. I'm not sure exactly which law "sedition" refers to, but I imagine it's in 18 U.S.C. 115, which deals with "treason, sedition, and subversive activities." Section 2388 of this part of U.S. code, which punishes
Whoever, when the United States is at war, willfully causes or attempts to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or willfully obstructs the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, to the injury of the service or the United States, or attempts to do so

with up to 20 years in jail, seems to be the most on point.

Being threatened with 20 years in prison for dissenting against government policies is absolutely appalling. And truly frightening. Fortunately, according to this article the ACLU of New Mexico is on the case, and I can't imagine that this investigation will go anywhere, given how incredibly blatantly it violates the constitution of the United States (and, as Rox Populi notes, probably the Hatch Act as well).

There is a growing climate in this country that dissent is intolerably, and potentially treasonous. It is a feeling that stems from the actions of our highest governmental officials, who have made their political careers by solely listening to their favored sycophants, and for whom the idea that their might be alternative, yet valid, perspectives is utterly foreign. We need to restore the idea that free speech, free press, and free petition are vital aspects of the American way, wartime or no. And it genuinely frightens me to see how those values get eroded more and more with each passing year.


Anonymous said...

What is the line between free speach and inciting violence? Is there one? I think events in the middle east make that a question where people need to have a clear understanding of their positions and consequences. Is rallying a croud and urging them to lynch someone protected speech? Should it be?

I agree the example you listed, even with the "act forcefully to remove a government administration" phrase should be allowed speech. As for the other issues recent events have caused me to re-examine my previous beliefs.

Anonymous said...

The use of the act is truly frightening. In Australia we have just ammended and passed a new Sedition act, one that the government says it will use 'only in extreme cases', and one that also comes with a very hefty jail sentence. Oh, and we could be protected in Australia by 'Free Speech' except we do not have a Bill of Rights, theorectically the High Courts can protect us.