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Jeffrey Sterling with his wife, Holly, departing federal court in May 2015. (Photo: AP)

Jeffrey Sterling Completes One Year Of Unjust Prison Sentence

Yesterday, June 16th, marked one year since Jeffrey Sterling began his 3.5 year prison sentence for divulging classified information to a New York Times journalist, a crime he did not commit. One year he was deprived of the freedom that so many of us take for granted every day; one year separated from his loving wife, his friends and his family, and one year of wasted talent as a licensed attorney, a former CIA case officer fluent in Farsi, and a successful investigator who uncovered over 32 million dollars in healthcare fraud.

Today we want to remind the American people that Jeffrey’s conviction and sentence were unjust and renew our appeal to President Barack Obama to pardon him.

Why has he had to suffer such an injustice? Because the United States government wanted to punish Jeffrey for blowing the whistle and for fighting for his civil rights against the CIA?

Jeffrey is a beloved husband, a brother, a friend and an honorable man who consistently worked to keep our country safe. He was one of the few African Americans to work as a CIA case officer, and he was incredibly proud of this accomplishment. But he soon became disillusioned by a work environment characterized by racial disparity and was dismayed to learn that the government he worked for was shrouded in mistruths and secrecy.

The CIA planned to use a former Russian nuclear engineer to pass flawed designs to Iranian scientists, a program that was revealed in New York Times Journalist James Risen’s book “State of War.” Jeffrey had grave concerns about the mismanagement of this program and the potential harm to the citizens of our country and so he used proper legal channels to inform the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

During Jeffrey’s trial, the Department of Justice was unable to present any direct evidence proving that he divulged classified information to James Risen. To convict him, the DOJ relied solely on circumstantial evidence — emails and telephone conversations — to try to prove that Jeffrey was Risen’s source. In the end, Jeffrey was severely punished for merely communicating with a journalist, which caused public outcry from press freedom organizations like Reporters Without Borders.

How did the government justify that Jeffrey was their only suspect when over 90 additional individuals had access to the same classified information and could have easily leaked it to James Risen?

As Jeffrey repeatedly made clear throughout his trial, his relationship with Risen was related to his interest in Jeffrey’s discrimination lawsuit against the CIA.

When Jeffrey was preparing for his first overseas post for the agency in Germany, his supervisor told him “we are concerned you would stick out as a big black guy speaking Farsi” and informed him that another person would be taking the assignment. When he filed an Equal Opportunity Employment complaint, the CIA fired him. Shortly afterwards he became the first African American to file a racial discrimination lawsuit against the CIA, but his suit was never allowed to go forward because the government claimed it would reveal “state secrets.”

According to the United States government, Jeffrey then “retaliated” against the CIA by leaking classified information to James Risen. The moment that the administration felt there was an opportunity to incriminate him for fighting for his civil rights, every finger pointed to Jeffrey and no amount of evidence or lack thereof could defy the verdict that followed.

Jeffrey’s case drastically differs from that of former CIA Director General David Petraeus, who pleaded guilty to divulging huge amounts of classified information to his biographer and lying to an FBI agent, far more egregious acts than Jeffrey was accused of. Yet Petraeus was able to walk away with two years probation and a fine. If one strips away the race, financial status, and political clout of each of these men, and solely compares their alleged crimes, it is glaringly obvious that this was selective prosecution and sentencing.

Petraeus’ treatment solidified the belief in this country that the white man is presumed to be innocent and can do no wrong, and at worst receives a slap on the wrist, while the black man is guilty until proven innocent and belongs behind bars. Never in the history of this nation has there been a black person who had the courage to fight racial discrimination in the CIA, and a black man in the White House that would allow him to go to jail unjustly.

Justice must be served for this mockery of the truth. Jeffrey is innocent, and always has been. Our appeal to the President to pardon Jeffrey is a request for the acknowledgment of this undeniable injustice done to Jeffrey and amends to the wrongful conviction that changed our lives forever. Please don’t forget him as he serves time for a crime he didn’t commit.

To learn more about Jeffrey’s case, click here. To sign the petition asking President Obama to pardon him, click here.


© 2021 Huffington Post

Holly Sterling

Jeffrey Sterling was convicted under the Espionage Act as a source for New York Times reporter James Risen’s book “State of War.” He began serving his three and a half year prison sentence last June. In December 2015, Holly launched a petition on change.org and on RootsAction.org to ask President Obama to immediately pardon her husband.

Cornel West

Cornel West

Dr. Cornel West is Professor of Religion and African Studies at Princeton University. An activist, author, and social critic he has written many books, including: "Race Matters,"  "Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism,"  "Ethical Dimensions of Marxism," "Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, a Memoir," and "Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom."

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