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Memo to Federal Employees: When Is It Ethical to Break the Law?

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When is it ethical to fight illegality with illegality? Tough question. Dangerous question. Nevertheless history is full of now celebrated events that, when boiled down to there essence, amounted to illegal acts that changed nations, changed the world. Revolutions are, for example, the mother of all illegal acts against a state. Yet they are more often than not, celebrated -- at least by the victors. This is dangerous territory, to be sure. Breaking the law to achieve higher ends can be a calculation of monumental subjectivity. Nearly every tyrant in history has had their own list of justifications and claimed lofty goals to justify their lawless actions -- including the current occupant of the White House. But history also tells many a tale of oppressed, abused and exploited populations, forced by the illegal actions of their rulers, to break the law in order to break free themselves of lawless rulers. Sadly, we live in such times, and in such a country. Over the past seven years the Bush administration and it's Neo-con supporters have broken nearly every law of State that matters. They have waged an illegal war, kidnapped people, held people without trial and without representation. They have usurped the constitution's central tenants mandating the separation of powers. They have lied to Congress, lied to the courts, lied to their own people and lied to the world community. Oh hell, you know the list. There's more. Lots more. Likely more than we now know. And, at least so far, they've gotten away with it. How? Simple as pie. All they've had to do is withhold or destroy the documentary evidence of their crimes. When the GOP controlled Congress the administration had hundreds of accomplices in this crime. When Democrats regained control of Congress the administration was on its own and resorted to lying under oath, hiding documents and, when that failed, destroyed them.. as they did with the over 5-million White House emails. When we found out they were spying on us, with the help of the nations phone companies, they demanded Congress give the telecoms immunity from prosecution. Not because the give damn about the telecom's getting sued, but because they know the telecoms, to save their asses, will spill the beans -- the administration's beans. So the administration has dug its heels in, demanding Congress immunize the telecoms -- not to keep them on their side, but to keep them quite. (Out here in the real world that's called "obstruction of justice and witness tampering." ) Okay, but you know all this already. So what am I getting to. Recently many of us learned about a web site with only one purpose in life: allowing whistleblowers to post documentation that the government and/or corporations don't want us to see -- ever. Those that objected tried to get it shut down and, for a couple of weeks nearly succeeded.
Wikileaks judge realizes you can't enjoin the net by Richard Koman March 3, 2008 @ 7:00 PM So, the site is back online, after Federal Judge Jeffrey White dissolved his previous order, ordering the site's U.S. registrar to pull it off the net. In reversing those orders, the judge focused on the First Amendment implications of taking the site down. But even more to the point, the judge noted with regret that his injunctions were just plain useless. (Full Story)
WikiLeaks is back and what I am about to suggest I do not suggest lightly. I am about to suggest that people break the law .. which is itself.. is breaking the law. (One of society's little Catch-22's) Since the Bush administration is now running out the clock on its two-terms of unpunished lawlessness, time is short. I know from my years of covering Washington that that town is chuck full of good people, employees working at the agency level. They are career government employees -- Republicans, Democrats and independents. And they've had a front row seat to what's come down during the past seven years. And I am certain that many of them -- maybe most of them -- are as disgusted and outraged as you are.
(An aside: The Bush administration has used leaks to accomplish its own goals. For example, they thought leaking the identity Ambassdor Joe Wilson's CIA wife, Valerie Plame, was just the right way bolster their case for war against Iraq. So, in a strange, perverted way, the administration has shown the way for others in government who have stuff they believe could be "helpful" if released, legally or otherwise.)
Those career employees represent possibly our final hope of catching these guys red-handed. Because it is in their offices, in their files where the evidence lays .. the documents, them minutes of meetings, the executive orders, all the stuff this administration is determined never sees the light of day -- or a court of law. Let me be perfectly clear. I'm not talking about releasing truly sensitive classified intelligence. I'm talking about the kind of documents which, under any other administration would have been fully accessible to the Congress and the public through the Freedom of Information Act. I am talking about the regular business of government, the work-a-day documents of agencies like the FDA, FEMA, Treasury, HHS, the FDA and the DOJ. It is those documents which are being withheld because they prove this administration politicized those agencies violating laws in more ways than we can now even imagine. I am quite certain that in some file in some employee's Executive Office Building cubicle is the list of just who was on Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force. In another office are the Executive Orders President Bush signed authorizing torture. I n another office are documents showing how the religious right perverted federally-funded family planning operations. Some DOJ secretary is sitting on the evidence that would prove the White House tried to use the Dept. of Justice to suppress minority voting during the past two election cycles and tried to purge US Attorney's around the country that refuse to bring politically motivated charges against Democratic candidates and office holders. All that evidence, and mountains more, are destined for oblivion within the next nine months. Until now federal employees in possession of evidence of a crime had no reasonably safe way of getting that evidence into the public's hands. WikiLeaks now offers a way -- and in just the nick of time. Of course breaking the law -- even for laudable reasons -- is inherently risky business and I can't in good conscience encourage anyone to disregard the consequences by advising them to simply break the law. M means and ends must be thought through. The ethics of withholding or releasing such materials weighed and re-weighed and the possible consequences clearly understood. Daniel Ellsberg understood the means, the justification, the ends he wished to achieve and accepted the risks. He broke the law and so doing, changed history.
(Another Aside: When I was covering banking agencies in Washington during the S&L crisis, federal regulators, unable to get their superiors to act against politically-connected rogues like Charles Keating, would slip me restricted documents. I would write a story and suddenly the agency heads would be forced to act. Finally one day two Treasury agents (with guns even) showed up at my office. They demanded to know who was leaking documents to me. I pointed to my filing cabinet and said,
"Listen you two, it's all in those files -- everything you want to know. I dare you to subpoena's those files. Then you two better go looking for a new line of work. Beecause some of the names in those files are your own superiors."
They left and I never heard a word about it after that. Had it not been for those leaks, to me and other reporters, the looting of the S&Ls would have gone on much longer, and cost taxpayers much more. Those leakers were -- are -- heroes, of a sort.)
So, if you're one of those government workers, and you're in the mood to blow the whistle on a crime, the URL is Time is short. The perps are already moving in the shredding machines. They are already making lists of the documents that will be sequestered in the yet-to-be-built Bush "Library" in Texas. By this November it will be too late. They will have succeeded. They will have escaped. The evidence of their crimes will be either destroyed or placed beyond reach. The best disinfectant is, and always has been, the light of day.
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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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