Proceed with caution

The National ACLU has launched a new online tool that allows individuals to send Letters-to-the-Editor directly to your local newspapers. It’s a handy, clickable system that lets you select your newspaper, write a letter online and email it quickly. National is encouraging folks to use this tool to write letters about domestic surveillance and abuse of power and provides talking points on two bills now before the Senate, S.2453, the “National Security Surveillance Act” and the S.2455 the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Act.”

So, go forth and write, but remember that “letters to the editor can be dangerous.”

So says Bruce Schimmel, in this week’s Philadelphia City Paper article “Letter Rip.” Bruce tells the story of Laura Berg, “a nurse from Albuquerque” who wrote a letter to the editor “to denounce our government’s belligerence abroad and its indifference at home.”

“Berg’s letter… caught the eye of the FBI, who suspected her of sedition. The feds feared that the middle-aged nurse was beating the drums for violent revolution.

Berg’s computer was seized. Put on the watch list of the Patriot Act, she could be tailed and her phone tapped. Convicted of sedition-however unlikely-Berg could face time behind bars.

So when does the nurse get off the offical list of evildoers? Earlier this year, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information request on Berg’s behalf, which may provide a hint. “

So, go write your letters. And, if needs be, you can come back and file your FOIA

Amy Laura in Philadelphia

Update- Sunday, 4:40pm: Here’s more on this story:
Albuquerque Tribune: VA apologizes to nurse who wrote letter
The Albuquerque Tribune columnist Kate Nelson
AP via Free New Mexican: NM ACLU wants apology to employee investigated on ‘sedition’
Democracy Now: VA nurse accused of sedition (audio, video, and transcript of interview with Berg available)

5 thoughts on “Proceed with caution

  1. I personally doubt the source, or the facts of the story.Please, if their is another source for this info, please post a reply with it.

  2. ElfBob: Good to see you’re still reading our site, even though you don’t agree with the ACLU’s point of view. That’s what’s great about freedom of thought. As for the source, though, check out the links to Albuquerque’s establishment newspapers and to the AP story. I know the story is hard to believe, but it appears to be true. There are plenty of government officials out there who can’t tell the difference between dissenting opinion and criminal “sedition.” (Not that there’s very much to our 19th-Century vintage sedition laws that could survive First Amendment scrutiny anyway.)

  3. Here’s the link to the original letter:

    I’ve found several other threads about this, and I guess the sticking point is Ms. Berg’s use of the phrase “forcefully remove” the current government.

    Some people interpret this as advocating armed revolution. Of course, this would be “forcibly” not “forcefully” Since she received an apology (although private, not public), it would appear that someone rational realized there was nothing to her letter.

    Sedition lawas have existed at various times in the past, usually at times when the government is trying to suppress any form of published dissent. The Supreme Court has upheld the laws at various times, as well as having overturned them at others. For instance, someone was arrested during the Vietnam era for actively encouraging young men to dodge the draft. His conviction was upheld.

    Ultimately, it seems like the government has a history of intimidating people into silence when they know they’re in the wrong. Sedition laws were used in WW I specifically concerning the armed services, during the communist witch hunt of the McCarthy era, Vietnam… so it seems that the Bush administration has done its research and knows how to use some of the more effective means to squash free speech.

    Of course some speech isn’t covered, nor should it be. But Ms. Berg wasn’t yelling “Fire!” in a movie theater, she was merely stating that it’s up to the American people to take control of our democracy again and make the government follow the rules again, rather than throwing them out.

  4. Rad: I agree with most of what you wrote, but advocating draft resistance is not “sedition.” Sedition specifically means inciting or participating in “insurrection or rebellion,” conspiring to overthrow or destroy the government of the US by force, or advocating and teaching the “duty, necessity, desirability or propriety” of overthrowing or destroying the government. 18 USC 2383-2385. The parts of these laws which date to the Espionage Act of 1918 are clearly the most problematic under the First Amendment, and in fact are directly related to the anti-immigrant and anti-radical hysteria of that period which led to the initial formation of the ACLU.

  5. Sorry if I wasn’t clear… I don’t think advocating draft resistance is sedition either, but the Supreme Court did when they upheld a conviction of someone sentenced for it.

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