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Authors: Sibel Edmonds

Classified Woman

BOOK: Classified Woman
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Copyright © 2012 by Sibel Edmonds
All rights reserved.

Published by Sibel Edmonds, Alexandria, Virginia

ISBN-13: 978-0615602226

ISBN-10: 0615602223

eBook ISBN: 978-1-62110-021-8

On Sibel Edmonds

“We have been doing national security litigation for more than 30 years, and in our view, this is the most egregious misuse of the classification authority we’ve seen.”

—Michael Kirkpatrick,
Washington Times

“Having lived under tyranny in Iran and elsewhere, Edmonds knows what it looks like. In her case, and in many other recent cases, tyranny comes in the form of the state secrets privilege, a foolproof mechanism of the federal government to hide executive branch corruption, incompetence, and illegal activity. This is a practice more at home with czars and nabobs, and should have no place in the United States. But Edmonds gave the government something it never expected—a no-holds-barred battle. She hoisted the black flag and went on the attack by forming the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, an organization dedicated to changing the law, exposing government misdeeds, and giving hell to those who richly deserve it.”

—Professor William Weaver, University of Texas

“She’s a First Amendment cannonball. She speaks up for what she believes in. She’s a leader. The fact that she, not only, was a strong advocate for her own case, but she became a strong advocate for the public policy, for the greater good.”

—Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York)

“She had the intuition, the courage, and the backbone to stand up and do it. And we are very grateful to her. And the PEN Award is significant in that regard. Tell the public what happened—Sibel Edmonds was a heroine in this.”

—Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey)

“Sibel Edmonds is certainly one of my heroes and I’m glad to have heard of her effort. I admire what she is doing very much. I think she’s serving the country very well.”

—Daniel Ellsberg, “Democracy Now”

“Sibel Edmonds’ Kafkaesque ordeal underscores how easily government powers, especially powers wielded in the name of national security, can be abused to keep the public in the dark about official failings. PEN is deeply troubled by Sibel Edmonds’ story and by the growing number of reports of efforts by the administration to silence government employees.”

—Larry Siems, PEN American Center

“Sibel Edmonds is an American Patriot. She has a classic story to tell—which is the story of an immigrant, who came here seeking more freedom, and seeking a real democracy—and was unfortunately shut down when she tried to exercise her rights under the First Amendment.”

—Ann Beeson, American Civil Liberties Union

“For nearly a decade, Sibel Edmonds has fought against excessive government secrecy, built up an organization of more than one hundred national security whistleblowers, and exposed government attempts to cover up abuses.”

—James Bamford, bestselling author and award-winning journalist

“The silencing of Edmonds has been remarkably silent. Which is probably just what the FBI was counting on in the first place.”

—Clay Risen,
The New Republic

To Ela & F.R. Deniz

Introduction

S
ome say life is a journey. I agree. My life has been three major journeys, each marked by a distinctive set of events that defined and shaped who and where I am today.

The first journey of my life took me to Iran. It was marked by witnessing my father subjected to arrest, interrogation and, of course, torture, a common practice in the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s king. My father—a doctor, a surgeon—believed in democracy and liberal values; he advocated collective bargaining for the working class to achieve health care benefits and wages that would enable them to survive. For this he was marked as a Communist and imprisoned. For doing right by others he was tortured. In spite of it all, and against ardent protestations of his family, he continued to fight for his country’s freedoms; to help where he could, to ease suffering. His were deeply held beliefs. His journey became mine, at a very early age. We were bonded.

That first journey too was marked by revolution: I watched it unfold and witnessed oppression, persecution, and merciless injustice. Overnight, fundamental values were forced on me: how I should be dressed, how I should cover every strand of hair, how precisely and how many times I must pray. I had no choice in the matter of where I lived; we don’t get to choose where we are born or taken by our parents. While this bumpy road ended as tumultuously as it started, I carry its scars with me. They are permanent. My disdain for any form of religious fundamentalism, aversion to even the word
monarchy
, and hatred for any despotic practice, all were acquired during this time and will stay with me forever.

The second journey began on my return to Turkey. This one was marked by censorship: my fellow Turks and I were forced to swallow words and black out any sentence forbidden by those who ruled. Punishment for violators was cruel and severe, as happened to many authors and reporters I admired: all of them locked up for expressing opinions that many shared but few dared even to acknowledge. Here it was in black and white: when freedom of the press and expression are taken away, the suffering and ill consequences are not limited to only those few who write and report. All of my father’s resolve, for instance, all his hard work and support, were not adequate to prevent censorship from affecting what I was taught in school, what I yearned to learn and what I longed to express. These were forbidden.

The iron force of the Turkish state marked my second journey with its mass killing of its minorities, mass detention of its dissidents, and mass corruption among its ruling parties. This journey too was one by default; I played no role in starting it. I did, however, conclude it by making the decision to leave it behind and choosing the next path myself. These experiences too, for as long as I live, are engraved in my conscience and soul. My passionate love for freedom of speech and of the press, my dedication to the protection of due process, and my endless quest for government held accountable—gained in the void of their absence—always will remain an inseparable part of me.

The most important of my three journeys is the third. This is the one chosen freely: coming to the United States of America. This journey started as love at first sight. Its beginning was marked by living with the kind of freedom and rights that had existed only in books and my fantasies. This road became a highway as I began to know the Constitution my new country theoretically upheld, the separation of powers it said it exercised, and a fairly new concept of equality it tried to nurture. I chose this country, and I wanted to immerse myself in its culture; to meld with it, blend into it; become inseparable, so that all those things I admired and longed for would apply to me; would envelop me. I rushed through its steps until I reached the top, where I would declare my oath to my newfound land, and dedicate myself not only to cherish but also to protect it for as long as I chose to live in it. The strength and fidelity of this union didn’t lessen over time. Each passing year, of education in its laws and history, of visits to any of the diverse cultures it contained, left a lovely mark in me to hold on to, show, and treasure.

Until, that is, the chosen road changed shape and took me in a blind direction, leading me into dark, cold places I never thought existed. Just like the dark side of the moon, here was the dark side of my precious third journey—a side not many talked of or wrote about; an ugly side that may have shown up here and there, once in a while, throughout its history, like a child’s “bad monster” popping up in the night, then retreating into shadows, never lingering long enough to be seen or figured out, or ever exposed in the light.

Prologue

I
threw my carry-on into the backseat. Once behind the wheel, I paused to take a mental inventory of what I would need: passport,
check
; traveler’s checks,
check
; cash in dollars and Turkish lira,
check

I looked at my watch: half past three. I gazed on our townhouse, reflecting; the third Christmas in a row with no jolly wreath on our door or festive lights decorating the trim. I had a little less than two and a half hours to get to the airport, which was less than fifteen minutes away, to purchase my tickets to JFK with a continuing flight to Istanbul, get on the plane, and take off. I couldn’t procrastinate any longer, so I started the engine, pulled out of our driveway, and headed north toward Reagan National Airport.

The gray, windy December day promised a heavy downpour, precisely mirroring my mood. I tightened my grip on the wheel to steady my shaking hands. I’d left a short note for my husband telling him it was time for me to go and face whatever awaited me there. I was not going to miss the chance to see my grandmother one last time. I would not let them erase me from my family’s map.

Until a few years earlier, before the dark journey began, we frequented the country at least once a year, and my family paid us annual visits. Then came the nightmare; changing everything, turning our life upside down.

I had plotted the trip in secrecy, something I had never done in all our years of marriage. I knew he would do everything he could to stop me from taking this trip. It was, after all, a matter of life and death.

I turned right at the airport entrance and squinted to make out the signs to long-term parking. My vision blurred, and I knew at once it was not poor visibility but tears. My determination, my will, began to melt with each passing second. I drove past the parking entrance and continued on. I made two more turns around the airport, tears still falling, before I took the exit. Now I was crying out loud, sobbing. The pangs, pain, fear, rage and everything else I had bottled up in me for the past four years began to pour out; a floodtide of grief.

Yes, this was true acceptance, full acknowledgment. I could never ever go back. I would never see my extended family again. My past, my ties, my bonds and heritage all had been wiped out—completely and forever.

In my country of origin I have been branded as a spy for the United States of America. There I have been characterized as a “traitor against the country” and named as “the enemy of the state.”

According to Turkish government insiders, there exists an outstanding warrant for my arrest and incarceration. The moment I set foot in that country, I’ll be arrested and jailed under its so-called State Treason Laws, and be prosecuted in a military tribunal without access to outside representation. This is only if I’m lucky, since the likely fate that awaits me is to be taken—disappeared—and added to the list of tens of thousands of “unexplained” missing persons.

I am no longer able to visit Turkey or any of my family there, including my beloved grandmother. The ties that connect me to my past have been permanently severed. My family members have been warned and threatened to cease all contacts with me. The bonds that connect me to my friends as well, even those from childhood, no longer exist.

Instead of driving directly back home, I exited left, to the quiet Potowmack Landing, a sailboat marina in a quaint little harbor on the Potomac River facing the airport’s runways. The place seemed deserted. Considering the now steady rain, I wasn’t surprised.

I parked in an isolated, gravelly space, pulled up the zipper on my gray fleece jacket and tucked in my knitted scarf before stepping out. I walked to the pier, ignoring the razorlike wind and rain striking me in the face.

The view was beautiful, soft and melancholy. The masts on many of the boats were strung with multicolored lights, but the cheery decorations only darkened my mood.

Across the river, despite the poor visibility and encroaching night, I could make out the famous landmarks of Washington, DC; of its past, its government. The Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, the Capitol … I smiled bleak and bitterly, for once upon a time I’d seen them with different eyes and marveled at all they represented. They served as reminders of our democracy, the Bill of Rights and a government of the people, by the people, for the people. They used to fill me with a sense of pride and contentment. Now they carried an awful, different meaning; one that evoked in me fear, disappointment, distrust, rage and sadness. These feelings were mingled with futility, a sense of desperation that things would never be fixed, and pessimism too—about the chances of ever recovering what was lost, or even if that were possible.

I felt deep pangs when I thought about this government, this monstrous new entity, taking over. I felt all the wounds, inflicted on me directly; they began to ooze and bleed. I couldn’t go back to where I came from, but I didn’t want to stay here either. I was too tired to fight. I had battled for four long years nonstop and been defeated in every single one. They had taken nearly everything from me, everything I was. Here I was now, a woman excluded from her nation’s laws, protections and rights; a woman whose very existence has been attacked; a woman who has been shut up by the government she so once admired.

By the media and the public, I’m commonly referred to as the State Secrets Case, the Gagged Woman or the Classified Whistleblower.

Among legal experts I’m cited as “the most egregious case of unjustified secrecy and classification”; “the most gagged woman in the known history of the States”; and “the unprecedented case in application of State Secrets Privilege.”

Many of my old friends and associates consider me “too dangerous to associate with,” “too risky to get close to,” and “a reason to land us on a government watch list.”

The United States government has declared me “a woman who knows too many sensitive secrets,” “a woman who should remain gagged,” and “a person who should be classified at every level and in every aspect.”

The United States government has officially declared my birthplace, my heritage, as Top Secret Classified Information containing State Secrets.

My birth date has been designated classified, and its divulgence a serious threat to the United States’ sensitive diplomatic relations. The United States judicial system has agreed with this designation and ruled for its enforcement.

I am forbidden to reveal my mother tongue; all languages I speak have been banned from being officially stated. Per the government’s demand, the federal courts have ruled against those who tried to ask me what languages in which I’m fluent.

My employment history has been classified as top secret. Those who have requested this information have been prevented by court orders.

My education background, including college degrees and areas of study, are designated as classified and covered by the State Secrets Privilege. The government has claimed that divulgence of my education pedigree would jeopardize our nation’s security and sensitive secrets.

The First Amendment right has been officially and formally taken away from me. I am excluded from the protection of freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment does not apply to me. My right to due process and access to the courts has been officially taken away. In 2002, the Department of Justice invoked the State Secrets Privilege, barring my cases from moving forward in the courts. The United States federal courts have obliged.

The U.S. Congress is forbidden to discuss my case or refer to me. The Justice Department has issued a formal gag order to Congress with regard to my case. My right to petition Congress has been taken away.

I looked up at another plane that had just taken off, blinking away raindrops as I followed it across the sky. I wondered if it was the plane I had planned to be on, now taking off without me as I sat there in the rain, pondering how I’d come to this point. With my family taken from me, my past erased, my voice gagged, and most of my identity classified, I felt incapable of taking charge of my life or whatever was left of it. What had gotten me here was a set of turning points imposed on me, all beyond my control. For four years I’d been gripping a steering wheel that simply was not connected. I knew what I wanted: an untraveled road, a different car, a brand-new start; but I didn’t know how. All I knew at this time was that I had to step out of this person I’d become—no, actually
been molded into
—during those past four years: the whistleblower and the gagged woman; the Classified Woman.

BOOK: Classified Woman
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