Laura Berg, a clinical nurse with the US Veterans Administration, is like a lot of US citizens. Occasionally she sees something which causes her to rise up and speak. She feels confident that given the guarantees provided under the Constitution she is free to criticize her elected leaders and the people those leaders employ their name. It is her birthright to speak freely. At least that's what she thought.
Berg wrote a letter to a weekly newspaper shortly after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to New Orleans. This is what it said, (from The Progressive):
"I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government," it began. "The Katrina tragedy in the U.S. shows that the emperor has no clothes!" She mentioned that she was a VA nurse working with returning vets. "The public has no sense of the additional devastating human and financial costs of post-traumatic stress disorder," she wrote, and she worried about the hundreds of thousands of additional cases that might result from Katrina and the Iraq War.Clearly, she was a citizen expressing outrage at all she had seen. She is allowed. The freedoms guaranteed under the Constitition are absolute.
"Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown, and Rice should be tried for criminal negligence," she wrote. "This country needs to get out of Iraq now and return to our original vision and priorities of caring for land and people and resources rather than killing for oil. . . . We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.
Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times."
After the paper published the letter in its September 15-21 issue, VA administrators seized her computer, alleged that she had written the letter on that computer, and accused her of "sedition."It turned out there was no record of the letter being written on the computer. But, that didn't stop the VA from trampling all over the guaranteed freedom of speech. In response to queries by Berg, Mel Hooker, chief of the human resources management service at the Albuquerque VA, wrote this:
"The Agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act which potentially represents sedition," he said. "In your letter . . . you declared yourself "as a VA nurse" and publicly declared the Government which employs you to have "tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence" and advocated, "act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit." "Berg will no longer speak to the press. She is also concerned that the FBI was brought into this case. She's afraid. Because she exercised her constitutional right to speak. It's not a stretch to believe that her co-workers and family are now having second thoughts about whether they should speak up when the incompetent or illegal actions of the Bush administration gives them reason.
So, do we declare the US Constitution in extreme peril on the merits of this case? Or do we wait for the next one?
The ACLU has taken up her case.