Laura Berg has spent the last 15 years working as a clinical nurse specialist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Albuquerque, NM. Outraged over the federal government's slow response after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, she exercised her First Amendment right and wrote a letter to her local weekly newspaper criticizing Dubya Bush. After the letter's publication last September, her bosses — administrators from the federal VA — seized her work computer and investigated her for "sedition."
Excuse me, but aren't sedition laws a thing of the past? Wasn't John Adams denied a second presidential term in the election of 1800 in large part because of his efforts to undermine civil liberties?
In 1798, on the verge of possible war with France, a possibility that did not sit well with the Republican Party (not to be confused with today's GOP), Adams (of the war-hungry Federalists) signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts. Among other things, these repressive laws sent people to prison for criticizing government officials and policies. Many see Thomas Jefferson's electoral victory as a direct result of Republican efforts to smear Adams for violating civil liberties - and as much as I admire Adams, my favorite Revolutionary Era figure despite his right-wing leanings and support for a "natural aristocracy," he got what he deserved. Years later, to his credit, he admitted that the Acts had been a colossal mistake.
Thankfully, the Alien and Sedition Acts expired on the final day of Adams' term in 1801. This makes Laura Berg's story all the more curious.
The Progressive summarizes Berg's missive to the Alibi:
"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.
"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."
When her employer grabbed her computer, Berg asked for an explanation. A response came from Mel Hooker, chief of the Albuquerque VA's human resources management service: "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.'"