ACLU Warns State Dept. Against Firing Worker Who Criticized Government
The American Civil Liberties Union has come to the defense of a former State Department employee who looks likely to be fired for blogging and writing critically about the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
The ACLU says doing so would violate the constitutional rights of veteran State Department employee Peter Van Buren, according to a letter the group sent the government on Tuesday.
The letter further accuses the government of unlawful retaliation against Van Buren for publishing critical comments about U.S. foreign policy on his personal blog last year.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that public employees retain their First Amendment rights even when speaking about issues directly related to their employment, as long as they are speaking as private citizens,” and as long as they’re writing about matters of public concern, the ACLU wrote in its letter (.pdf). “There can be no dispute that the subject matter of Mr. Van Buren’s book, blog posts, and news articles - the reconstruction effort in Iraq - is a matter of immense public concern.”
Van Buren, a 23-year Foreign Service officer, was a former leader with the reconstruction team in Iraq following the recent war there. But after he left that position to take up different work in the department, he became a public critic of the U.S. government’s reconstruction efforts in a book he published last year titled We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
Van Buren submitted his book to the State Department for pre-publication review in accordance with federal rules that require employees to obtain clearance before publishing information on “matters of official concern.”