• Mother Jones: Whistleblowers’ Jobs Least of What is at Stake

    March 17, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    Mother Jones really uncorks one here, using my case against the State Department to frame the debate: there is more at stake here than the jobs of whistleblowers. When the government seeks to punish and thus silence debate, we’re risking the very freedom we purport to export.

    Peter Van Buren—a veteran US diplomat whose blog and 2011 book, We Meant Well, detail his futile experiences as a nation builder in Iraq—was formally fired from the State Department this week. Officials at Foggy Bottom say Van Buren is guilty of eight major policy violations, including linking to Wikileaks documents on his blog, leaking classified info in his book, and displaying a “lack of candor” in interrogations by State security officers, according to a statement from his publicist. (A State Department spokesman confirmed the charges to the Washington Post on Wednesday.)

    But Van Buren maintains he’s being singled out for “dirty tricks in retaliation” for embarassing his employer—a simple exercise of his free-speech rights. “It’s hard for me to objectively look at this as anything other than revenge and vindictiveness,” he told the Post.

    In the book (part of which was published here at MotherJones.com), Van Buren recounts how, as the leader of two Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq, he was party to one tragicomic, Kafkaesque misstep after another: shipping trucks full of unwanted English-language books to Iraqis who promptly dumped them; distributing soccer balls that nobody would kick because they had Koranic verses printed on them; chilling out at the US embassy in Baghdad, the world’s largest, playing lacrosse on a dead $2 million lawn.

    His Iraq experience led Van Buren to broaden his criticisms, blogging about the government’s excesses and secrecy obsession on his own site and for TomDispatch. In a post last August, he referred to a State cable leaked by Wikileaks about US arms sales to Libya (a move, he says, he ran by his superiors). The following month, my colleague Andy Kroll wrote about the grilling Van Buren received from the Diplomatic Security Service. At the time, Kroll described Van Buren as “the only State Department employee who may be fired because of Wikileaks.”

    But in recent media appearances like the one on Democracy Now! I’ve embedded below, Van Buren says the State Department is mostly sauced about his personal jibes against the bosses, because he hasn’t leaked any classified info. “Can State point to a single instance where I have released official information not already available elsewhere, absent perhaps my book, which was approved (perhaps by accident) by the State Department?” he asks on his blog. “I criticized the Secretary of State,” he told a DC news station this week. “I criticized the president and I’ve criticized other members of the State Department and the administration, and I did that because when I signed up 24 years ago, my oath was to the Constitution, not to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or anyone else.”

    Talking back certainly isn’t a crime. One thing the Wikileaks cables show is that diplomats don’t always have to be diplomatic: They can be critical of world leaders, policies, and events, but evidently only if they have achieved sufficient rank and subtlety—and only if they do it behind State-approved firewalls.

    Van Buren plans to appeal his dismissal. Regardless of the outcome, he’s likely to keep fighting—for all whistleblowers, not just himself. Just last month, he wrote a broadside for TomDispatch—reposted by MoJo, in which he includes a disclaimer that his words “do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity” of the federal government. “There is a barely visible but still significant war raging between a government obsessed with secrecy and whistleblowers seeking to expose waste, fraud, and wrongdoing,” he writes. “Right now, it is a largely one-sided struggle and the jobs of those of us who are experiencing retaliation are the least of what’s at stake.”



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Mother Jones: Inside the World’s Largest Embassy (c)

    September 28, 2011 // 3 Comments »

    Mother Jones excerpts one of the funnier chapters from my book, focusing on the efforts by the World’s Largest Embassy (c) to grow green grass in the middle of the Iraqi desert:

    The ambassador, who fancied himself a sportsman, ordered grass to grow on the large sandy area in front of the main embassy building, a spot at one time designated as a helicopter-landing zone, since relocated. Gardeners brought in tons of dirt and planted grass seed. A nearly endless amount of water was used, but despite clear orders to do so, the grass would not grow.

    The ambassador would not admit defeat. He ordered sod be imported into Kuwait and then brought by armored convoy to the embassy. No one confessed to what it cost to import, but estimates varied between two and five million dollars. The sod was put down and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water were used to make it live, in what was practically a crime against nature. No matter what Iraq and nature wanted, the American Embassy spent whatever it took to have green grass in the desert.

    We made things in Iraq look the way we wanted them to look, water shortages throughout the rest of the country be damned. The grass was the perfect allegory for the whole war.



    Read the whole excerpt/article at Ma Jones.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Occupying Iraq, State Department-Style: A Frat House With Guns in Baghdad

    June 8, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    If you did not have a chance to read my article, Occupying Iraq, State Department-Style: A Frat House With Guns in Baghdad, yesterday at TomDispatch, or work at the Department of State where TomDispatch is still blocked because it once had some Wikileaks spunge on it, you can catch up at one of your fave sites, below:

    CBS News

    Salon

    Andrew Sullivan

    Mother Jones

    Le Monde Diplomatique

    Asia Times

    The Indypendent

    The Nation

    Neiman Watchdog

    Huffington Post

    The Sri Lanka Guardian

    American Conservative Magazine

    Pacific Free Press

    War in Context

    Gulf Today

    MyFiredoglake

    Daily Kos

    Michael Moore

    Counterpunch

    American Empire Project

    Antiwar.com

    Middle East Online

    Guernica

    Uruknet

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State