It read like a mystery thriller, the story one of my former students, now an attorney, related to me over afternoon tea. During the Vietnam war, she had been active in the antiwar movement and had risen to the defense of several prisoners, calling for social reform. Unfortunately for her, when some of them were released, they blew up an army recruiting station and by their actions, they brought her to the attention of the FBI, though she had no part in the plot . Her life became a misery. She was followed and harassed by agents on a regular basis and a black sedan became a permanent fixture outside her door. They were watching her and they knew she knew and they wanted her to know.
In Suzanna Andrews’ profile of Jesselyn Radack, an ethics attorney who has aided social pariahs like Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, the situation was similar. Having survived tight surveillance, she confesses intense government scrutiny can bring a person to the brink of suicide. (“Courting Controversy,” by Suzanna Andrews, More, April 2015, pgs. 98-104, 127.) In her case, she suffered more than scrutiny. She was fired from her job with the Justice Department and for a long time was unable to find work.
Eventually, she was hired at the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a private organization that scrutinizes the scrutinizers. Radack oversees national-security and human rights cases for GAP, (Ibid pg. 100.) and her client list has put her on the world stage. Radack doesn’t apologize for the work she does. She reminds her detractors that attacks on her ignore the deplorable truth that our government is capable of telling lies and committing acts of torture most Americans would find shocking. She is not outside the system, she insists. She is part of its checks and balances. (Ibid pg. 104.)
Like my former student, Radack has a courage and an unbending sense of right and wrong that may seem naïve in aspect. Having been a politician, I admit there are times when I thought I did more good than harm by keeping silent. But not often.
I admire Radack’s courage and that of my friend and former student. To take up unpopular causes, to live outside the mainstream of America and to be labeled a subversive is not the path most of us would choose. When its unpleasant truths are exposed, a government tends to vilify the messenger. Edward Snowden, who disclosed the depths of government spying on citizens, is a recent victim of this strategy.
I admit, I thought twice before sending a check for Snowden’s legal defense. I have become wary of my government. All the more reason to cut the check and mail it.