Iran sentenced American citizen Amir Mirzael Hekmati to death for alleged spying.
The U.S. is justifiably outraged:
U.S. officials said the charges were false and politically motivated, describing them as the latest in a series of provocations by Iran’s clerical rulers.
“We strongly condemn this verdict,” said Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the State Department.
We should feel similar outrage when our own government accuses people who exposed fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement and illegality of being spies. The Obama administration has brought a record number of prosecutions against so-called "leakers" - who are more often than not whistleblowers - using the antiquated Espionage Act, a law meant to go after spies.
Iran's unjustifiable death sentence should warn against slapping a whistleblower with the toxic label "spy." The injustice for Hekmati is also a stark warning against the dangerous combination of secret courts, government overreach, and questionable prosecutorial conduct, a combination that permeates the current spate of Espionage Act prosecutions.
The Obama administration's Espionage Act prosecutions for alleged mishandling of classified information number more than all past presidents combine, and include - as the New York Times pointed out - one target from each of the State Department (Stephen Kim), the Defense Department (Bradley Manning), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (Shamai Leibowitz), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (Jeffery Sterling), and National Security Agency (NSA) (Thomas Drake).
Because the government has alleged mishandling of classified information, the cases necessitate secret proceedings under the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA).Yet the government pushes for even more secrecy. The court approved the Justice Department's use of the constitutionally-questionable "silent witness rule" in the Espionage Act case against former CIA official Jeffery Sterling. The controversial "silent witness rule" is an impediment to a defendant's constitutionally-guaranteed right to a public trial. The silent witness rule allows the witness, judge, jurors and attorneys to see evidence, but requires attorneys to question witnesses about the secret evidence in a secret code. Members of the press or public attending the trial will not understand what is happening in a supposedly "public trial."
The Justice Department also tried to use the silent witness rule in the case against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, but the Justice Department's case collapsed in a glaring defeat before the Judge could rule on the silent witness rule motion.
Questionable Prosecutorial Conduct
Yesterday, I chronicled war on whistleblowers general William Welch's repeated and ongoing questionable prosecutorial actions in the cases against Drake and Sterling.
As if we need more warning signs, the abhorrent treatment of Army PFC Bradley Manning while in U.S. government custody smacks of tyranny.
There is no greater example of government overreach than that of the (thankfully) spectacularly-failed case against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake. When the Drake indictment was handed down, Justice Department officials wildly overstated the case against Drake in a Justice Department press release:
Our national security demands that the sort of conduct alleged here – violating the government’s trust by illegally retaining and disclosing classified information – be prosecuted and prosecuted vigorously. . .
It turned out after the Drake prosecution collapsed under the weight of the truth in the face of adverse rulings in court and almost universally-negative media coverage, that none of the information Drake was accused of illegally retaining was classified. In fact, the alleged classification in the Drake case was so offensive to former G.W. Bush administration classification czar William J. Leonard, that Leonard filed a complaint seeking discipline for the NSA and Justice Department officials responsible for the improper classification.
Condemning whistleblowers as spies labels them "enemies of the state." Iran's treatment of Hekmati - and countless other Americans accused of "spying" - shows the danger of those condemnations.