Monday, 19 January 2004

US stars hail Iraq war whistleblower

I've got your democracy right here...

GCHQ worker Katharine Gun faces jail for exposing American corruption in the run-up to war on Saddam. Now her celebrity supporters insist it is Bush and Blair who should be in the dock.

She was an anonymous junior official toiling away with 4,500 other mathematicians, code-breakers and linguists at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham.

But now Katharine Gun, an unassuming 29-year-old translator, is set to become a transatlantic cause célèbre as the focus of a star-studded solidarity drive that brings together Hollywood actor-director Sean Penn and senior figures from the US media and civil rights movement, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Gun appears in court tomorrow accused of breaching the Official Secrets Act by allegedly leaking details of a secret US 'dirty tricks' operation to spy on UN Security Council members in the run-up to war in Iraq last year. If found guilty, she faces two years in prison. She is an unlikely heroine and those who have met her say she would have been happy to remain in the shadows, had she not seen evidence in black and white that her Government was being asked to co-operate in an illegal operation.

The leak has been described as 'more timely and potentially more important than The Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg, the celebrated whistleblower who leaked papers containing devastating details of the US involvement in Vietnam, in 1971. Ellsberg has been vocal in support of Gun. She was arrested last March, days after The Observer first published evidence of an intelligence 'surge' on UN delegations, ordered by the GCHQ's partner organisation, the National Security Agency.

Legal experts believe that her case is potentially more explosive for the Government than the Hutton inquiry because it could allow her defence team to raise questions about the legality of military intervention in Iraq. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is likely to come under pressure to disclose the legal advice he gave on military intervention - something he has so far refused to do.

At a hearing last November, Gun's legal team indicated that she would use a defence of 'necessity' to argue that she acted to save the lives of British soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

At the time Gun, who was sacked after her arrest and whose case is funded by legal aid, said in a statement: 'Any disclosures that may have been made were justified on the following grounds: because they exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the US government who attempted to subvert our own security services; and to prevent wide-scale death and casualties among ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces in the course of an illegal war.'

She added: 'I have only ever followed my conscience.'

Sean Penn and Jesse Jackson have already signed a statement of support for Gun and a broader campaign will be launched later this year. They are joined by Ellsberg, who is keen to travel to Britain soon to meet Gun.

Other signatories of the statement, to be released in the coming weeks, include Linda Foley, president of the Newspaper Guild, and Ramona Ripston of the American Civil Liberties Union, both in their personal capacities.

Full story...

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