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A case of 'selective prosecution'?

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: May 20, 2015 - 8:57:50 AM

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Legal analysts say Black CIA whistleblower sentenced to prison on circumstantial evidence, while White former CIA director receives light sentence for worse crimes

( - Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency case officer, was sentenced May 11 to forty-two months in prison in what activists and legal analysts are calling the latest salvo in the Obama administration’s war against whistleblowers and journalists.

Under the 1917 Espionage Act, Mr. Sterling was convicted of nine felony counts in January of sharing classified information with veteran New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. Mr. Risen later, in 2006, wrote a book which in part, detailed efforts of the United States to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The government insists information revealed by Mr. Sterling jeopardized American lives, and compromised their strategies making it more difficult for the U.S. to recruit agents. Free speech and anti-war advocates consider Mr. Sterling a courageous whistleblower. Mr. Sterling has repeatedly denied leaking classified information to Mr. Risen. In fact, what information he did share, was out of patriotic concern for American troops, and with the appropriate people, he contends.

In a newly-released documentary titled: “The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling” he discussed the fact that he was the first Black case officer to sue the CIA for racial discrimination, a move many believe was career-limiting in terms of his future with the agency. He also goes into detail regarding what information he shared, with whom, and why.


“I reached out to the Senate Intelligence Committee. I gave them my concerns about an operation I was involved in, and I thought it could have an impact, a negative impact, on our soldiers going into Iraq,” said Mr. Sterling. “The Senate Intelligence Committee and the House committee, they have clearances to hear this. That is what they are there for. They are there for oversight,” he argued.

A case of selective prosecution?

In a recent interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! Norman Solomon, who was in the courtroom May 11 when Mr. Sterling was sentenced, slammed the Obama administration calling the sentencing  “selective prosecution” and “the continuation of a war on whistleblowing and journalism.”

“The Obama administration continues its war on the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment, on journalism and on whistleblowing, and the courtroom sentencing yesterday was part of the attack on our freedom and liberties,” said Mr. Solomon.

There were no Blacks on the jury, and according to Mr. Solomon, “the evidence presented by the prosecution was circumstantial email and phone call metadata without content of any incriminating nature.”

Despite pledging to be the most transparent presidential administration, Pres. Obama has expanded Bush era surveillance techniques, and has used the Espionage Act more than all previous administrations combined.

Nine people have been charged with the Espionage Act, perhaps the most well-known is the case of Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked details of the U.S. Government’s leviathan global surveillance program that were later published. Russia granted Mr. Snowden temporary asylum, a move the White House criticized. Mr. Snowden is still at great risk and goes to great lengths to conceal his exact location.

By contrast, highly decorated U.S. Army General and former CIA Director David Petraeus pleaded guilty to leaking classified information to his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he also had an affair. According to legal records, Mr. Sterling’s lawyers noted this information included “the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberate discussions from high level National Security Council meetings, and defendant David Howell Petraeus’s discussions with the President of the United States of America.”

Petraeus was not charged with espionage. Though he admitted to making false statements and lying when questioned by the FBI, he faced no obstruction of justice charges. He was only sentenced to two years of probation and fined $100,000.

Petraeus, Mr. Solomon said, was “not even slapped on the wrist, but fondled on the wrist.” The disproportionate application of justice shows the “absurdity and tyranny of what the (Obama) administration continues to do,” he said.

Attorney Abdul Arif Muhammad, who serves as the Nation of Islam’s general counsel said the most punitive measures, the hardest and most strident charges, fines and penalties are often levied against Blacks and this appears to be another case in which an uneven application of laws is evident for those involved in a thorough observance of jurisprudence.

“The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan teaches us that there is an irreconcilable perception of justice when it comes to Black and White,” said Atty. Muhammad.

He said those who control the legal system often find “mitigating circumstances” to relax legal restrictions for the economically privileged and politically connected, while strictly adhering to legal mandates, dictates and firm punishments for those who find themselves without access to the levers of power.

“The arc of justice certainly doesn’t bend in our favor, in fact, it is injustice that we seem to be perpetually victimized by.” Atty. Muhammad continued, “this has been our reality in America.”