Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
Interesting quiz: Can you tell the difference between the FISA court and the court in Franz Kafka’s The Trial
Alvaro Bedoya and Ben Sobel write in the Washington Post:
When Edward Snowden first went public, he did it by leaking a 4-page order from a secret court called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court. Founded in 1978 after the Watergate scandal and investigations by the Church Committee, the FISA court was supposed to be a bulwark against secret government surveillance. In 2006, it authorized the NSA call records program – the single largest domestic surveillance program in American history.
“The court” in Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial is a shadowy tribunal that tries (and executes) Josef K., the story’s protagonist, without informing him of the crime he’s charged with, the witnesses against him, or how he can defend himself. (Worth noting: The FISA court doesn’t “try” anyone. Also, it doesn’t kill people.)
Congress is debating a bill that would make the FISA court more transparent. In the meantime, can you tell the difference between the FISA court and Kafka’s court?
Section I. Every court has rules and procedures. Do the following describe proceedings in the FISA court, Kafka’s court, or both? . . .
Continue reading to take the quiz.
Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:
Colonel Ian Henderson was a British official dubbed “the Butcher of Bahrain” because of atrocities he repeatedly committed during the 30 years he served as chief security official of that Middle Eastern country. His reign of terror began in 1966 when Bahrain was a British “protectorate” and continued when the post-“independence” Bahraini King retained him in the same position. In 1996, The Independent described him as “the most feared of all secret policemen” in Bahrain, and cited “consistent and compelling evidence that severe beatings and even sexual assaults have been carried out against prisoners under Henderson’s responsibility for well over a decade.”
A 2002 Guardian article reported that “during this time his men allegedly detained and tortured thousands of anti-government activists”; his official acts “included the ransacking of villages, sadistic sexual abuse and using power drills to maim prisoners”; and “on many occasions they are said to have detained children without informing their parents, only to return them months later in body bags.” Needless to say, Col. Henderson was never punished in any way: “although Scotland Yard launched an inquiry into the allegations in 2000, the investigation was dropped the following year.” He was showered with high honors from the U.K.-supported tyrants who ran Bahrain.
Prior to the massacres and rapes over which he presided in Bahrain, Henderson played a leading role in brutally suppressing the Mau Mau insurgency in another British colony, Kenya. In the wake of his Kenya atrocities, he twice won the George Medal, “the 2nd highest, to the George Cross, gallantry medal that a civilian can win.” His brutality against Kenyan insurgents fighting for independence is what led the U.K. government to put him in charge of internal security in Bahrain.
For years, human rights groups have fought to obtain old documents, particularly a 37-year-old diplomatic cable, relating to British responsibility for Henderson’s brutality in Bahrain. Ordinarily, documents more than 30 years old are disclosable, but the British government has fought every step of the way to conceal this cable.
But now, a governmental tribunal ruled largely in favor of the government and held that most of the diplomatic cable shall remain suppressed. The tribunal’s ruling was at least partially based on “secret evidence for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from a senior diplomat, Edward Oakden, who argued that Britain’s defence interests in Bahrain were of paramount importance”; specifically, “Mr Oakden implied that the release of such information could jeopardise Britain’s new military base in the country.”
The U.K. government loves to demonize others for supporting tyrants even as it snuggles up to virtually every despot in that region. Her Majesty’s Government has a particularly close relationship with Bahrain, where it is constructing a new naval base. The Kingdom is already home to the United States’ Fifth Fleet.
The tribunal’s rationale is that “full disclosure of the document would have ‘an adverse effect on relations’ with Bahrain, where the U.K. is keen to build further economic and defence ties.” In other words, disclosing these facts would make the British and/or the Bahrainis look bad, cause them embarrassment, and could make their close friendship more difficult to sustain. Therefore, the British and Bahraini populations must be denied access to the evidence of what their governments did.
This is the core mindset now prevalent in both the U.S. and U.K. for hiding their crimes from their own populations and then rest of the world:disclosure of what we did will embarrass and shame us, cause anger toward us, and thus harm our “national security.” As these governments endlessly highlight the bad acts of those who are adverse to them, they vigorously hide their own, thus propagandizing their publics into believing that only They — the Other Tribe Over There — commit such acts.
This is exactly the same mentality driving the Obama administration’s years-long effort to suppress photographs showing torture of detainees by the U.S. In 2009, Obama said he would comply with a court ruling that ordered those torture photos disclosed, but weeks after his announcement, reversed himself. Adopting the argument made by a group run by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney against disclosure of the photos, Obama insisted that to release the photos “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger.” Obama went further and announced his support for a bill sponsored by Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman to amend the Freedom of Information Act — a legislative accomplishment which Rep. Louise Slaughter told me at the time had long been “sacred” to Democrats — for no reason other than to exempt those torture photos from disclosure.
In March of this year, a U.S. judge who had long sided with the Obama DOJ in this matter reversed course. In a lawsuit brought in 2004 by the ACLU, the judge ordered the release of thousands of photos showing detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, including at Abu Ghraib. He ruled that the Obama DOJ could no longer show any national security harm that would justify ongoing suppression.
Rather than accepting the ruling and releasing the photos after hiding them for more than a decade, the U.S. Justice Department last week filed an emergency request for a stay of that ruling with the appeals court. The argument from The Most Transparent Administration Ever™: . . .
An interesting column in the New Yorker by Amy Davidson:
In the past week, two fights over domestic spying—one political and one legal—have converged in Congress and the courts. They both began in June, 2013, when the Guardian, as part of a series based on files leaked to it by Edward Snowden, published a secret National Security Agency document ordering Verizon Business Services to hand over call records for all its customers. This immediately caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, not least because it was itself a Verizon Business customer. Its affiliate, the New York Civil Liberties Union, had been one, too. This was not so strange—Verizon is one of the few major providers in the country. (Government officials soon acknowledged that the other providers received similar orders.) But it had legal consequences. A number of previous attempts to challenge secret government surveillance practices in court had failed because the plaintiffs lacked what’s called standing: they couldn’t prove that they, in particular, had been affected, and you need to do that to bring a suit. Just six days after the first Snowden story appeared, the A.C.L.U. went to court, Verizon bill in hand, claiming that the law and the Constitution had been violated.
This was not the only response. The dismay about the bulk collection of phone records was broad; many Americans had assumed that this was the sort of thing for which the government needed an individualized warrant, rather than a dragnet. President Barack Obama and other defenders of the program said, though, that the practice was legal under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which was first passed after September 11, 2001, and which allows the government to collect “tangible things” that are “relevant” to a particular investigation. That rationale seemed dubious. The N.S.A. had relied on the secretly operating Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Without access to its classified legal interpretations, a citizen, or a congressman, even one reading the bill carefully, would still not have known that the assembly of the phone records of just about every American into a searchable database was an activity the law envisioned. (Indeed, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, had denied that such a thing was taking place in testimony before Congress. He is a defendant in the A.C.L.U. case.) But the N.S.A.’s story was that it was acting in perfect accord with Section 215, and it has largely been allowed to stick to it. Bulk collection, with some tweaks, has continued.
Section 215, however, expires on June 1st, two weeks from now. Congress has, basically, three options. One is to let Section 215 die, and, presumably, the bulk-collection program with it. (But that might allow the N.S.A. simply to tear up the previous order and look for another route to the same end.) A second option is to bring the program above board: pass a new law that would allow the N.S.A. more controlled access to what it said was valuable information. This is the U.S.A. Freedom Act, and it has both Republican and Democratic supporters, including Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, who has a strong record on civil liberties. The White House has said that the President will sign it. The House passed a version on Wednesday, by a vote of 338-88, and sent it to the Senate. But it may run into trouble there, because of a third option: to extend Section 215 and, implicitly, accept the N.S.A.’s interpretation and let it keep collecting everyone’s records with what amounts to impunity. This is the option favored by many Senate Republicans, foremost among them the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who refers to it as a “clean” renewal of Section 215.
Then, last Thursday, the Second Circuit Appeals Court found that the A.C.L.U. was, at least partly, correct: Section 215 did not authorize bulk collection. The program was never legal. Once the court reached that finding, it didn’t have to address the question of whether the practice was unconstitutional, but it did suggest that it was a pretty good one to ask. That all made McConnell’s clean renewal look pretty dirty.
“This is a very delicate issue,” John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, said earlier this week of the House version of the Leahy bill. “I know members would like to offer some amendments, but this is not a place for people to bring out the wrecking ball.” The members he was referring to were libertarians in his own party, who, in this case, want more privacy protections than the bill provides. They are not the only potential wrecking-ball rig operators, though: there is also the McConnell faction, which seems unmoved by the Second Circuit decision and continues to act as though it’s enough to renew Section 215. (As Benjamin Wittes points out, ignoring the court, at the very least, “involves serious litigation risk.”) McConnell may insist on bringing a five-year renewal of the Patriot Act to the floor, as is, which could set off more inter- and intra-party fights. Boehner said, “I’m not going to speculate on what the Senate may or may not do. But all I know is that these programs expire at the end of this month.”
So, while this is a fight about the future of the bulk-collection program, there are bigger puzzles on the table, which have to do with the intersection of law and politics. One is about the direction of both parties, which are not internally unified on surveillance questions. Another is where the public should look for redress, in the face of an uproar like the one that Snowden’s documents brought about. Can Congress handle it, or is this where the courts must come in? Perhaps the largest question is how much laws, and their language, matter. The most outrageous aspect of the N.S.A. revelations was that the agency believed that it could have its own hidden reading of laws like Section 215, divorced from the ordinary meaning of the words that Congress debated and passed. The crucial finding of the Second Circuit decision—and why it matters, going forward, even if Section 215 expires—is that the meaning of words does matter. Two central ones in this case are “relevance” and “investigation.” The judges found that the government’s argument, in response to the A.C.L.U., amounted to saying that everyone’s phone records were relevant because, someday, “utilizing its ability to sift through the trove of irrelevant data,” the government might find something helpful. The judges added, “The interpretation urged by the government would require a drastic expansion of the term ‘relevance.’ ”
Similarly, the court found that, when the government asked to connect these searches and seizures to a particular investigation, it had a habit of just invoking names of terrorist groups, which has all the specificity of saying that the world is a dangerous place: “Put another way, the government effectively argues that there is only one enormous ‘anti-terrorism’ investigation, and that any records that might ever be of use in developing any aspect of that investigation are relevant to the overall counterterrorism effort.”
Although the court found that the law was being broken, it held off on ruling on the A.C.L.U.’s request for a preliminary injunction that would end the program immediately. That was because, the judges said, of the June 1st deadline. Something would have to change then. The restrictions introduced in the U.S.A. Freedom Act—having companies like Verizon hold onto the records, instead of the government; making sure that searches were more specific—address the same problems that the court recognized. On the other hand, the court noted, “If Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.” The court’s decision explicitly left open the possibility that, in either of those scenarios, whatever replaced Section 215 would still face a tough constitutional challenge. (And it indicated that it would be better if any higher court dealt with the law in place after June 1st.) Until then, the judges, it seemed, wanted to give Congress room to do the right thing and end an illegal practice.
Congress, of course, has been known to do nothing. . .
The DEA has become an embarrassment to a supposedly free and democratic country. (I’m talking about violations of the rights of the public, not the DEA’s penchant for celebratory parties—with drugs?—that include prostitutes, all funded by drug cartels. It’s a deeply corrupt organization whose head was recently summarily fired. Conor Fridersdorf reports in the Atlantic:
Earlier this year, Aaron Heuser of Eugene, Oregon, had to travel to Washington, D.C. The trip had two purposes: The 37-year-old mathematician was officially leaving his job at National Institutes of Health and starting a new position at a private firm. Since he is terrified of flying he booked himself a sleeper car on Amtrak. Upon reaching Reno, Nevada, there was an unexpected knock at his door. “There was a DEA badge on the window,” he said. “Having a good reason to be making this trip and being a law abiding citizen, I opened the door and politely asked if there was a problem. The officer asked if I was Aaron Heuser, and then asked to see my ticket. He then told me that there were many red flags on my trip, mainly that I had a sleeper car, was traveling alone, and did not check my luggage.”A sleeper car is a main Amtrak product! Plenty of people travel alone! Why would anyone with a whole sleeper-car compartment to themselves go through the hassle of checking luggage?Yet the harassment isn’t surprising.
For decades, law enforcement has tried to intercept drug couriers on Amtrak trains. These efforts have utterly failed to stop the easy availability of marijuana, cocaine, and other narcotics. Meanwhile they’ve violated the rights of countless Americans. Earlier this week, I highlighted the story of Joseph Rivers, a 22-year old black man who left his hometown in hopes of becoming a music-video producer. En route to L.A., the DEA boarded his Amtrak and seized his life savings, $16,000 in cash, even though there was apparently no evidence he’d committed a crime or possessed any drugs.After reading my article Heuser contacted me to share his story.The officer asked him why he was traveling, and at first seemed satisfied by his explanation. But he quickly changed his tone, began acting like he knew Heuser was guilty, and asked to search his room. Since Heuser had nothing to hide and felt intimidated a part of him wanted to comply. But as a fan of the ACLU and the son of hippie parents, he instead decided to assert his right to be free from unreasonable searches.
The DEA agent pressed the matter.
“After that he asked if he could bring a dog into my room to check out the bags, to which I again said ‘no,’” said Heuser, who hasn’t passed the bar but knows a little bit about Fourth Amendment law. “Finally he told me that he was going to bring a dog, walk it by my room, and that if alerted, my room would be searched. He told me that I could not argue this and that I was not allowed to be present for the search. His reasoning for violating my right to be present was that the dog might bite me.”
Forced to leave his room, he walked toward the dining car. En route another DEA agent tried to get him to step off the train where other law-enforcement officers were gathered. Heuser worried that if he got off the train they might not allow him back on before it left. “I asked if I was under arrest, and if I were free to go, then started walking to the dining car,” Heuser said. “The officer followed me, telling me that they know I am transporting drugs, and if I have any for personal use, they do not care, and it would be easier if I just told them. I said that was nice to know, then kept walking.”
Then a DEA agent lied in an attempt to gain permission to search the room.
“He told me that his partner could tell someone was hiding in my bathroom and wanted to check if anyone was in there,” Heuser recalls. “I told them that no police are allowed to enter, but if the conductor wants to enter and let them know that there is no one in the bathroom, it would be okay.” Minutes later, while Heuser was on his way back to his room, a DEA agent looked him in the eye and said, “You Oregonians may think that the green leafy stuff is harmless, but I know from my job that it kills people every day.”
Finally Heuser stepped back into his room.“I found my backpack moved and open, and my wallet, which was set down on the room table, had $60 missing,” he said. “I told one of the dining car attendants that I felt Amtrak and the DEA violated my rights. She told me thatAmtrak is forced to give passenger info to Feds, that the DEA comes on every trip, usually arresting someone in the sleeping car or taking all their money. When I asked for her name in case I needed it later she refused and told me Amtrakwould fire her.”One needn’t rely on her hearsay.
Last year, the Associated Press reported that the DEA “paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers, which the DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network.” (This was reportedly done so that the DEA could avoid sharing seized assets with Amtrak police, which hints at how lucrative such seizures are.)
Around the same time, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request after getting reports about Amtrak passengers having their rights violated. “This type of targeting constitutes a significant invasion of personal privacy,” an attorney wrote in the accompanying memo. “It suggests that Amtrak is sharing the travel-related data of thousands of its passengers who have engaged in no wrongdoing.” . . .
I was alerted to this in Radley Balko’s excellent list of today’s links; this article was noted as follows:
The Drug Enforcement Administration has been harassing Amtrak passengers in search of drug smugglers. Among the “signs” the agency looks for: unusual nervousness, unusual calmness, disembarking early, disembarking late, not carrying luggage, paying for a ticket with cash, and making telephone calls while “looking around.”
Do take a look at the full list of links.
Here’s another example Friedersdorf quotes in his story:
I’ve just spent the last hour being interrogated by the Nebraska State Police who boarded our train, the California Zephyr, at 4AM. I am in a sleeper (Car 0632, room 14) and awoke to a non-uniformed individual banging on my door, again at 4AM.
I was interrogated as to where I had boarded, where I was going, what I was doing, and had my room and my luggage searched as was the experience of all the other sleeping car occupants in my car. When we asked for identification from the officers (who were not uniformed) we were told a) they had jurisdiction and b) they would HAND WRITE individual cards. My card reads “Richard A. Lutter”, Investigator, Investigative Services Division, Nebraska State Patrol. Badge #253.
When my fellow sleeping car riders asked why they were on the train, they said “To Search For Contraband” and that was the excuse they used to rummage through our rooms and our luggage. The train’s conductor was also present and for reasons I do not understand did not throw them off the train.
This is not America.
This is America, but America is changing. It is becoming a police state. Evidence: See above.
Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports in Motherboard:
For months, government officials have railed against encryption technology that protects user data from being stolen by hackers but also makes it difficult for cops to access or intercept. On Tuesday, the tech industry is saying “enough.”
A letter signed by pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley, including Google, Apple, Yahoo, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as dozens of security and privacy experts and many civil liberties organizations, urges President Barack Obama to say no to any proposal that would force companies to weaken the security of their products so that law enforcement authorities can access customer data.
The plea comes after months of public debate over encryption, which was sparked when Apple announced that data on the new iPhone would be encrypted by default and that even the company wouldn’t be able to access to it. After that announcement, FBI Director James Comey has been urging companies to backtrack and give law enforcement a way in, because otherwise widespread encryption will “lead us all to a very dark place” where authorities can’t get key evidence when they need it.
Despite these complaints, the FBI and other government agencies have failed to put forward a concrete proposal that would give consumers strong encryption while also providing cops and feds a way in. Experts have accused the officials of asking for backdoors, which are intentional vulnerabilities designed to give access to otherwise secure systems, while officials have defended their requests saying they simply want legal “frontdoors.”
“Whether you call them ‘frontdoors’ or ‘backdoors,’ introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government’s use will make those products less secure against other attackers,” the letter reads.
The letter goes on to argue that not only backdoors aren’t technically feasible, but they’re a bad idea because if the US gets them, then other government will feel legitimized to demand them too, which will “undermine human rights and information security around the globe.”
“The result will be an information environment riddled with vulnerabilities that could be exploited by even the most repressive or dangerous regimes,” the letter reads. “That’s not a future that the American people or the people of the world deserve.”
Another issue, the letter continues, is that it will hurt American companies operating abroad, as consumers and businesses will turn to other companies offering products that have stronger protections.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
The letter was sent by . . .
Eric Schlosser reports in the New Yorker:
On May 16th, three Christian pacifists—Gregory Boertje-Obed, a sixty-year-old housepainter; Michael Walli, a Vietnam veteran in his early sixties; and Sister Megan Rice, an eighty-five-year-old nun who belongs to the Society of the Holy Child Jesus—were suddenly and unexpectedly released from federal prison. They are members of the Plowshares movement, which is devoted to abolishing nuclear weapons and seeking world peace. As I recounted in an article in the magazine, during the summer of 2012 they broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Y-12 is a nuclear-weapons plant, often referred to as the Fort Knox of Uranium. After cutting through four fences with bolt cutters, evading sophisticated intruder alarms, and eluding armed guards authorized to use lethal force, the three activists reached the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility—a fortified building that contains about nine hundred thousand pounds of weapons-grade uranium. Instead of trying to steal some of the uranium to make a bomb, as terrorists might, they threw blood on the building and spray-painted antiwar slogans on its walls. For this nonviolent act of civil disobedience, they were sent to prison for destroying government property and committing sabotage. The legal decisions that freed them last week were as unprecedented and surprising as the break-in that put them behind bars.
The fact that three people without commando training—let alone a nun, in her eighties, with a minor heart ailment—could get so close to the nation’s largest stockpile of weapons-grade uranium caused the Department of Energy a great deal of embarrassment. [And thus the harsh penalties sought: it is highly criminal, in the view of government agencies, to embarrass the agency. – LG] Although members of Congress thanked Sister Megan for helping to expose major security problems at Y-12, the Justice Department charged her, Walli, and Boertje-Obed with crimes that could bring prison sentences of as long as thirty-five years. After being found guilty by a jury, in May, 2013, Sister Megan was sentenced to three years in prison; Walli and Boertje-Obed to five. Their defense team decided not to appeal the convictions for destroying government property. The three not only admitted to cutting fences, spraying graffiti on the building, and throwing blood, they were proud of it. And they were willing to spend years in prison on behalf of their beliefs.
The sabotage charge, however, seemed unreasonable. Enacted during the First World War, the Sabotage Act ostensibly aims to prevent enemies of the United States from damaging factories, weapons, and equipment essential to the war effort. But the statute’s definition of sabotage is so broad—the “intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States”—that for almost a century the law has been used mainly to incarcerate people who use civil disobedience to protest against the nation’s defense policies. During the nineteen-eighties, one anti-nuclear activist was convicted of sabotage after breaking into a Minuteman missile site, and given a prison sentence of eighteen years. Walli, Boertje-Obed, and Sister Megan believed that nuclear weapons, not the protest against them, posed the real threat to America’s national security.
William P. Quigley, a professor of law at Loyola Marymount University, in New Orleans, worked closely with two young attorneys, Judy Kwan and Marc R. Shapiro, to appeal the sabotage convictions. Quigley had been defending peace activists since the late nineteen-eighties, but Kwan and Shapiro were relative newcomers to the field. Employed by the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, they spent thousands of hours on the Y-12 case, pro bono, leaving behind the world of patent, copyright, and security law to immerse themselves in the minutiae of nuclear-weapon production, Catholic pacifism, and the legal theory behind the Sabotage Act.
Jeffrey E. Theodore, an assistant U.S. Attorney, had managed to persuade a jury in Knoxville, Tennessee, that the three Plowshares activists had meant to harm—and indeed, had harmed—the national defense. After the break-in, Y-12 had been shut down for two weeks, delaying a shipment of uranium. Fences there had to be repaired; the security had to be upgraded; guards were diverted from their usual tasks; and the whole thing had harmed the reputation of the United States.
In March, during arguments before a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Theodore implied that seeking the abolition of nuclear weapons might even be a form of sabotage. . .
Note the immediate organizational response: “There’s nothing wrong in what we did”—before getting the facts or investigating what was done
We see the same thing repeatedly in all organizations: when a situation arises, the organization—before knowing the facts, before actually looking at what was done—will issue statements that it was right in what it did, that it did nothing wrong, etc. For example, after a police officer shoots and kills someone (Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Walter Scott, and countless others), the police department will immediately respond with how the police officer did the right thing, that the police officer did everything possible to avoid shooting, including warning the victim, and so on—only to have surveillance videos show that the police department was simply lying, that the officers shot gratuitously and without warning.
But it’s not just police departments. The Catholic church denied any possibility that priests were sexually abusing children (even when the Catholic church knew the accusations were true), the Bush Administration denied that it was torturing prisoners even as it demanded that the torture continue, and—today’s example—a VA hospital asserted that it did nothing wrong in refusing to assist a man with a broken foot get through the hospital door even though he was parked at the Emergency Room entrance. (As often happens, the denial of wrong-doing eventually crumbled under an onslaught of facts, but apparently most organizations will go first with “Deny everything.”)
Once again we see how America actually values its veterans, to whom it repeatedly denies care and support. Actions speak much louder than words.
The story is reported by Lewis Kamb in the Seattle Times and includes an audio recording of the call the man, parked at the VA hospital entrance, had to make to 911 to gain assistance to get into the hospital:
When Donald Siefken drove up to the Seattle VA hospital emergency room earlier this year with a broken foot, all he asked for was a little help getting inside.
Instead, a hospital employee who answered Siefken’s cellphone call told him to call 911 himself, then hung up on him, Siefken said.
Frustrated to tears, the 64-year-old retired truck driver and Army vet from Kennewick placed the emergency call while parked just feet away from the ER entrance.
“They won’t come out and get me, do you believe that?” Siefken asked an emergency dispatcher, his voice wavering. “They told me to call 911 and hung up on me.”
In response to inquiries about Siefken’s case, a VA spokesman initially told The Seattle Times the hospital’s response was appropriate.“I know it sounds counterintuitive because someone is just 10 feet away, but it is our policy to do that,” said Chad Hutson, spokesman for the Veteran Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System. “Our policy is no different than Harborview or Swedish or other hospitals in Washington.”
But that’s not the case [i.e., Chad Hutson was simply lying – LG]. And, after a reporter requested Siefken’s medical file and other records, the hospital changed its story, issuing a written statement earlier this month.
“After a complete review regarding this Veteran’s visit to the VA Puget Sound Seattle campus emergency room, we have determined we did not do the right thing to ensure the Veteran had assistance into the emergency room,” the statement said.
It added that ER personnel “should have called the appropriate staff to come and assist the patient, ensuring he made it into the emergency room safely.”
The hospital now plans “corrective actions to ensure this does not happen again to one of our Veterans,” the statement said.
On Tuesday, Dr. William Campbell, the hospital’s chief of staff, also met with Siefken to apologize.
“He first called me on Friday, and he was all over himself apologizing,” Siefken said, before Tuesday’s meeting.
Citing privacy concerns, the VA declined The Times’ request to observe Siefken’s meeting with Campbell.
Siefken’s odyssey to a formal apology began on the afternoon of Feb. 27.
While getting ready to drive his wife from their Kennewick home to catch a red-eye flight at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Siefken “stepped down funny and heard a snap,” he said.
During the long drive, his foot started to swell and hurt.
“So I dropped my wife off at the airport, and headed right up to the VA.”
By the time Siefken arrived, shortly after 3:30 a.m., his foot had swollen to the “size of a football” and was throbbing with pain, he said.
Siefken parked outside the ER on the ambulance roundabout and, because he couldn’t walk, called the front desk for help.
I hope the man sues the hospital and wins an enormous settlement.
I would bet that Chat Huston and the person who refused to provide assistance both still have their jobs. There is no penalty for wrong-doing for the providers; the penalties are suffered by those seeking help.