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Telling the Truth & Paying the Price: Jesselyn Radack's Story

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Message Allan Giles
Jesselyn Radack could be anyone. That is, anyone who happens to believe that doing the right thing trumps political convenience. Her story began while she was working at the Professional Responsibility Advisory Office (PRAO) at the Department of Justice (DOJ), in 2001. She thought she was doing her job by delivering requested advice very early on in the case of John Walker Lindh.

Not so.

By offering advice that inhibited the post-9/11 persecution and demonization of Lindh, Radack was actually just getting in the way. Getting in the way of a highly politicized DOJ that had decided to steamroll over Lindh, and didn't care about collateral damage. Radack became a different kind of casualty in the War on Terror.

Her book, The Canary in the Coalmine: Blowing the Whistle in the Case of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh is Jesselyn Radack's personal account of what it feels like to be on the business end of a vindictive scapegoating conducted by your own government. Her narrative flows quite well and is easy reading, even when the ballet steps of legal dogma need to be illustrated. There is no heavy reliance on legal jargon to over-complicate the story, although there are a couple of passages that have to be read very carefully, in order to grasp the magnitude of Radack's ordeal.

Some of her experiences are frankly Orwellian and carry a distinct sense of dread... you can feel your stomach sink in empathy when she goes to retrieve her printed emails from the Lindh file, only to find the file purged. Her documentation gone down the Memory Hole, as it were. Meanwhile, singing phenomenon John "Let the Eagle Soar" Ashcroft was pontificating about the Lindh case, blithely grandstanding and publicly transmitting a story that stood in stark contrast to the facts that Radack remembered.

Slick with Crisco oil, Ashcroft does not receive a very flattering portrait in Radack's memoir, as he casually averts his eyes from the factual history of Lindh's case, as surely as his eyes turn from the naked breasts of marble statues. (Perhaps if Radack would have attended one of Ashcroft's breakfast prayer meetings, things may have gone easier for her.)

After Radack discovers the purged Lindh file, and takes steps to rectify the situation, her future at PRAO at first becomes uncertain, and then, certainly short. Her manager falls into line with Ashcroft's vision for the DOJ and assumes the ideological tunnel-vision that must accompany it. Relations at the office become frosty, followed by a scathing review of Radack's work performance that was not part of her regularly scheduled reviews, and designed to take current and future employment at PRAO completely off the table.

With a career in shambles, Radack turns to the media for assistance in applying some checks to the rogue DOJ. Sometimes the media is successful, and sometimes it cuts with a doubled-edged sword, as the DOJ uses the very fact that Radack supplied some material to Newsweek as grounds for further persecution, and at one point a criminal investigation. This despite the fact that Radack had committed no crime.

Ashcroft gets special scrutiny in the book, but Michael Chertoff is also exposed as someone who fits right in with the current administration; that is, someone who can ignore inconvenient facts at will, and follows the party line with a determination impervious to truth or justice.

Ultimately, Radack's career is derailed, and her mental, emotional, and physical well-being are rigorously tested by political enemies that spread innuendo and falsehoods as she tries to move on from PRAO. She even winds up on the "no-fly" list, and is subjected to the whims of secret government decisions that to this day remain shadowy, and bear the unmistakable aroma of totalitarianism.

As her story unfolds, and you bear witness to this abuse of Federal power, you wonder when she is going to throw in the towel, but she never does.

This may be the most important lesson to draw from Radack's ordeal; that is, keep fighting. Keep swinging. Like Ali and Frazier, just keep on taking it. Stick to your ideals, to a sense of truth and justice, and allies will come to you.

The second most important lesson is to back-up everything. Document your communications thoroughly, especially digital ones like email. Radack was lucky, she was able to reclaim a large amount of long-deleted emails with some savvy technical advice, and shocked the hell out of her superiors who never saw it coming. You may not be so lucky, or have access to the hard drive that your emails originated on. Be prepared, especially if you think something dodgy is going on around you.

Canary in a Coalmine allows Radack to tell her story in a relaxed and detailed manner that can't be accomplished with an Op-Ed or 3,000 word article. Whistleblowing, or Truthtelling, may not land you on the front cover of Time, it may just land you alone and surrounded by hostile forces. However, in order to live up to those key words, "...and justice for all," sometimes you have to give all for the torch of Liberty to be seen by your fellows.

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