“Jeffrey Sterling was the hero of Risen’s story,” prosecutor Eric Olshan finished his closing argument in the Jeffrey Sterling trial. “Don’t let him be the hero of this one.”
“They are patriots,” prosecutor Jim Trump ended his remarks, speaking of the many CIA officers the jury had heard from. “They do their work without accolades.” He then compared Sterling with those patriots. “Sterling is not a patriot,” he described after accusing Sterling of betraying the CIA and his colleagues. “He is the defendant, he is guilty.”
Defense attorney Barry Pollack spoke in different terms – of the government’s insurmountable burden to present actual evidence that Jeffrey Sterling leaked national defense information to James Risen. Pollack warned of what a tragedy it would have been had the jury used the circumstantial evidence, presented by the government, that the word “Merlin” appeared on a computer Sterling used for 2 years to convict Sterling, when it turns out the word probably got there from its prior owner’s review of a piece of software called Merlin. “It would have been a tragedy” had the jury convicted Sterling based on that evidence, Pollack ended his presentation.
But along the way Pollack reminded whose story this is: James Risen’s, not Jeffrey Sterling’s, and the choices about how he presented Sterling, Bob S, and Merlin were made by him. The government, which pursued Risen’s testimony for 9 years, today presented the reporter as a mere vehicle for Jeffrey Sterling, a non-entity. Of course, no mention was made of Risen’s clear argument, in both the chapter (which the jurors will read) and the rest of the book (which jurors cannot read) that there were real reasons to be worried about CIA’s actions with respect to WMDs in both 2003 and still in 2006.
“There are four types of people who join the military. For some, it’s a family trade. Others are patriots, eager to serve. Next you have those who just need a job. Then there’s the kind who want a legal means of killing other people.”
– The title character of the 2012 movie Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, listing the “four types” to Rosamund Pike’s Helen Rodin.
As for the fourth type, Reacher was referring to another character in the film, an American sniper prosecuted for murders both in Iraq and the US.
Jack Reacher’s “American Sniper”: James Barr, played by Joseph Sikora.
Judging from Kyle’s own words, this character is a much more accurate portrayal of Chris Kyle’s psyche than the one created by Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper.
“But after you kill your enemy, you see it’s okay. You say, Great. You do it again. And again. (…) I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different–if my family didn’t need me–I’d be back in a heartbeat. I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun.”
– Chris Kyle, American Sniper
Six days of testimony at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling have proven the agency’s obsession with proclaiming its competence. Many of the two-dozen witnesses from the Central Intelligence Agency conveyed smoldering resentment that a whistleblower or journalist might depict the institution as a bungling outfit unworthy of its middle name.
Some witnesses seemed to put Sterling and journalist James Risen roughly in the same nefarious category – Sterling for allegedly leaking classified information that put the CIA in a bad light, and Risen for reporting it. Muffled CIA anger was audible, coming from the witness stand, a seat filled by people claiming to view any aspersions on the CIA to be baseless calumnies.
Other than court employees, attorneys and jurors, only a few people sat through virtually the entire trial. As one of them, I can say that the transcript of USA v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling should be mined for countless slick and clumsy maneuvers by government witnesses to obscure an emerging picture of CIA recklessness, dishonesty and ineptitude.
Consider, for example, the testimony of David Shedd, who was chief of operations for the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division when Sterling was a case officer at the turn of the century. On the stand, Shedd presented himself as superbly savvy about Operation Merlin. He’d met with the head prosecutor three times to prepare for testifying. Yet, as a witness, Shedd turned out to be stunningly ignorant about the only CIA operation at issue in the trial.
Francois Hollande is not a popular president. No matter how hard the "socialist" leader tries to impress, there never seems to be a no solid constituency that backs him. He attempted to mask his initial lack of experience in foreign affairs with a war in Mali, after his country enthusiastically took on Libya. While he succeeded at launching wars, he failed at managing their consequences as the latest attacks in Paris have demonstrated.
Following the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, he is now attempting to ride a wave of popularity among his countrymen. On January 11, an estimated 3.5 million people took to the streets of France in support of free speech – as if that were truly the crux of the problem. Nearly forty world leaders and top officials, many of whom are themselves unrelenting violators of human rights and free speech, walked arm in arm throughout the streets of Paris. It was a photo-op to show that the world was "united against terrorism."
In the midst of it all, the embattled Hollande was at center stage, ready to act as a statesman, decisive leader, and father of a nation. And as his nation tried to come to terms with the tragedy, Hollande made his annual new year’s address, promising to escalate the exact same policies that engendered violence and what many western pundits readily refer to as "Islamic terrorism."
Last October, Saudi Arabia’s Special Criminal Court sentenced Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr – a popular Shi’ite cleric and outspoken political dissident – to death.
This was not an ordinary criminal trial, even considering Saudi Arabia’s liberal use of capital punishment. Among other charges, the prosecutor sought to convict al-Nimr of “waging war on God” and “aiding terrorists,” even calling for the cleric to be publicly executed by “crucifixion.” In Saudi Arabia, this rare method of execution entails beheading the individual before publicly displaying his decapitated body.
The widely revered Shi’ite cleric was ultimately convicted of “disobeying” the king, waging violence against the state, inviting “foreign meddling” in the kingdom, inciting vandalism and sectarian violence, and insulting the Prophet Muhammad’s relatives. However, al-Nimr’s family and supporters claim that the ruling was politically driven and insist that the cleric led a non-violent movement committed to promoting Shi’ite rights, women’s rights, and democratic reform in Saudi Arabia.
After a week of ominous language about the dangers of leaking classified documents, the 14 jurors in the Jeffrey Sterling trial Tuesday got their first look at purportedly classified documents.
Martha Lutz, the CIA’s Chief of Litigation Support and the bane of anyone who has FOIAed the CIA in the last decade, was on the stand, a tiny woman with a beehive hairdo and a remarkably robust voice. After having Lutz lay out the Executive Orders that have governed classified information in the last two decades and what various designations mean, the government introduced four documents into evidence – three under the silent witness rule – and showed them to Lutz.
“When originally classified were these documents properly classified as secret,” the prosecution asked of the three documents.
“They weren’t,” Lutz responded.
“But they are now properly classified secret?”
“Yes,” Lutz answered.
A court officer handed out a packet of these same documents with bright red SECRET markings on the front to each juror (the government had tried to include such a warning on the binders of other exhibits, but the defense pointed out that nothing in them was actually classified at all). Judge Leonie Brinkema, apparently responding to the confused look on jurors’ faces, explained these were still-classified documents intended for their eyes only. “You’ll get the context,” Judge Brinkema added. “The content is not really anything you have to worry about.” The government then explained these documents were seized from Jeffrey Sterling’s house in Missouri in 2006. Then the court officer collected the documents back up again, having introduced the jurors to the exclusive world of CIA’s secrets for just a few moments.