Friday, May 30, 2008

Sibel Edmonds' Kill The Messenger at DOXA festival

Kill The Messenger, the documentary about FBI translator & whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, will be screened at the DOXA film festival in Vancouver on Saturday evening.

The Vancouver Sun lists Kill The Messenger as one of their 'Best Bets' for the festival.


As some of you know, I've been traveling for the last few months and haven't posted anything on Sibel's case for a while - unfortunately not much has happened in the interim.

There are still tickets available for the screening of Kill The Messenger at the DOXA festival in Vancouver on Saturday night. You can get your tickets here.

You may have already seen some of my YouTubes about the film. The trailer is here. In this new 5 minute clip from Kill The Messenger, Sibel's ACLU lawyers discuss the case.

From the clip:

Ann Beeson: It’s really phenomenal to me that any court can look at her case and say: "No, it can’t go forward, proceed or win her claim."

Ben Wizner: What you have here is the Attorney General of the U.S saying: "The plaintiff can’t even set foot inside a court because the entire case is a state secret."

Ann Beeson: The defendant is the Justice Department, it’s the FBI that committed the wrongdoing. And it’s the Justice Department’s own internal oversight body that has concluded that our client should win.

Ben Wizner: The danger is that if the government succeeds in that really overbroad invocation of the ‘State Secret Privilege’ in this case, it will be a very easy tactic for the government in future cases to avoid accountability and to avoid responsbility.

Ann Beeson: A brick wall and another brick wall and another brick wall!
And at every turn, it’s was the federal government who is preventing her from having,… from getting any justice!

Ben Wizner: And that cannot be!

Ann Beeson: Not in our democracy.

Ben Wizner: No, it can’t be!

Also from the clip:
Sibel Edmonds: Look! When the Attorney General came initially and invoked the State Secret Privilege, ok ? He cited two reasons: "to protect certain 'sensitive’ diplomatic relations," and "to protect certain foreign business relations of the United States."

Now, they‘re saying: That whole information, eveything is classified.

We don’t know what diplomatic relations they are referring to. They must be ashamed of it! They don’t want to mention it. So we have certain diplomatic relations that prevent criminals being prosecuted here.

And I am talking about criminals in the United States of America. American citizens! I am not referring to only foreigners here!

Some of those people have been named here

DOXA's blurb for the film is:
In the wake of September 11, 2001, Sibel Edmonds is approached by the FBI. As an American of Iranian and Turkish origin, Edmonds’ linguistic skill set makes her a valuable asset to the Language Services Unit, where she spends months translating high-security clearance documents. One day shortly after reporting the possible infiltration of her unit by Turkish spies to her supervisors and their supervisors, Edmonds’ world is turned upside-down.

Instead of seeing her colleague become the target of an investigation, she is interrogated, then unceremoniously fired and warned not to pursue her claims any further as she would be watched and listened to. In the years that follow, Edmonds is transformed into the country’s first public National Security whistle-blower and a prominent First Amendment advocate (the ACLU calls her the “most gagged woman in America”). Sibel is fighting for the very ideals that American democracy relies on and is facing, against overwhelming odds, some of the most reckless and powerful officials in the U.S. government. She brings her case to Congress, the 9/11 Commission, the media and the Supreme Court, facing down not only the FBI, but also then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, Vice-President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Advisor Condelezza Rice.

Sibel has granted the film crew full and exclusive access to document her story and her struggle as we zero in on her “secret”—the network of nuclear black-market, narcotics and illegal arms trafficking activities. Playing like a big-screen adaptation of Frontline, Kill the Messenger is a riveting true spy story that presents one citizen’s unexpected journey through the politicized quagmire that is America’s War on Terror.

The Vancouver Sun, in their 'Best Bets' of the festival says:
"This French film documents the cold, crass efforts by officials in the U.S. to bring down Sibel Edmonds, an American of Iranian and Turkish origin who was hired by the FBI as a translator after Sept. 11, 2001. Reporting the possible infiltration of Turkish spies turns her life upside down: she is interrogated, fired, and subjected to a relentless campaign of intimidation. Edmonds doesn't back down as she takes her fight to Congress, the 9/11 Commission, the media, and the Supreme Court. Saturday, May 31 at 9 p.m. at Pacific Cinémathèque."

Hopefully the screening of the movie will trigger some media attention to this case. When the documentary was first shown in France, all the major papers wrote about it. Here is a selection (apologies for some clunky translation):

Le Monde.
The history of Sibel Edmonds could be used to make a John Grisham 'whodunnit.' A few days after the attacks of September 11, the young woman of Turkish extraction is recruited by the FBI. She is in charge of the translation of the phone-tappings, the interrogations and the documents within the framework of the antiterrorist fight. Sibel Edmonds speaks Persian, Farsi and Azeri.

In December of the same year, she is contacted by a colleague from the FBI who tries to recruit her for the account of a mysterious Turkish lobbying organization. By denouncing this manifest case of espionage and by revealing that the FBI hides information over September 11, Sibel Edmonds found herself at the heart of the incredible business of State.

After the Children of Tranquility Bay, a beautiful documentary on the American camps of behavior modification, the film-makers Mathieu Verboud and Jean-Robert Viallet have made a film full with suspense and revelations about these men and these women - the "whistleblower" ("those who blow a whistle") - which denounce the dysfunctions of an organization or an administration. An attractive diving (?), sometimes a little difficult, in the mysteries of the reason of State in America.

AP (France)
The much-awaited documentary "Kill The Messenger" is showing Tuesday on Canal+. Mathieu (Verboud) and Jean-Robert Viallet met Sibel Edmonds whose life was transformed into nightmare after her ousting from the FBI. In a 84 minute film, they deliver the impressive testimony of Sibel Edmonds.

The young woman is 32 years old when she is recruited by the FBI as a translator, four days after September 11, 2001. She is charged with translating wiretapped conversations, some related to the 9/11 attacks. Sibel Edmonds was born in Teheran from Turkish parents, and spent the first 18 years of her life in Teheran and in Turkey, before landing in the U.S and marrying an American.

But her world gets turned upside-down when she discovers that a colleague is involved with illegal activities implicating Turkish officials. The filmmakers report the rest of Sibel's story. She reports the incident to her superiors and gets fired from the FBI. After her firing, she goes to the U.S Congress. Months pass and Sibel Edmonds realizes that nobody makes the slightest move. The young woman tells her story to the media. Time has come for Attorney General John Ashcroft to classify the whole Sibel Edmonds case as a"State Secret." If the young translator continues to speak, she'll go to prison. Determined, yet powerless, Sibel Edmonds suffers two years of loneliness.

In 2003, the Bush government accepts the creation of a commission whose role is to investigate the government and intelligence failures that led to 9/11. Sibel Edmonds then will carry out a long battle in order to expose her case: Turkish spies infiltrated the FBI and the government is apparently aware of these spies. July 24, 2004, the 9/11 Commission Report comes out, but Sibel's testimony is not included. The young woman is regarded as a "whistle-blower", she is joined in her fight by intelligence agents from the FBI, the CIA and NSA. The two filmmakers find leads pointing to the role of Turkey, Israel and Pakistan. In the 80's, at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S and Turkey were instrumental in helping Pakistan acquire nuclear power. Turkey appears to have acted as a back-door conduit for some of those operations. Later on, Israel came into play, too. At the time, the CIA knew everything but turned a blind eye, even when Pakistan started selling its technology to friendly countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya. By then, nuclear proliferation had gone out of control and the U.S let it go. In the 90's, when the Talibans were in power in Afghanistan, some nuclear equipment even landed in the hands of Usama Bin Laden.

In addition, American-Turkish Council (ATC), a powerful American lobby, has for many years facilitated trade of the weapons with the assistance of Israel. And it is in an indirect way that Sibel Edmonds denounces the secrets of these diplomats and secret agents with her superiors. In spite of this, the young translator finds herself entangled in a spy case whose ramifications are beyond the knowledge of the young woman and the TV viewer at the same time. Besides being thorough, the investigation is captivating and alarming. Sibel's case is so complex that it look like a labyrinth without exit.

Le Figaro.
“A Woman to Cut Down” - the true story of a woman recruited by the FBI after September 11 then sanctioned for her uprightness.

Perhaps the Public imagined that with the Children of Tranquility Bay (film on a center for young difficult Americans, rewarded in Fipa), programmed last May on France 2, Mathieu Verboud and Jean-Robert Vialley had reached a peak in the originality of the writing. But the public didn't count on this new investigation worthy of the best whodunnit by John Grisham…

The difference is that this is a true story. That of Sibel Edmonds, called “the most explosive woman of September 11”, an involuntary detonator of a politico-legal explosive business.

“It is while working on the phenomenon of “Whistle Blowers”, these employees who denounce the illegal intrigues their incredible owners and stories (Enron, pharmaceutical laboratories…), that we could come into contact with it”, tells Mathieu Verboud.

Shortly after September 11, this American born in Iran and having grown up in Turkey, who speaks Persan, Azeri and Turkish, is recruited by the FBI to translate kilometers of phone-tappings. Corruption, drugs, money laundering, companies screens, nuclear black market… what she will discover is amazing. But when spies infiltrated within the department of translation try to recruit her, she decides to inform her bosses. It is there that her life gets rocked…

Attempt at intimidation, reprisals, Sibel Edmonds is finally laid off… She turns to the Congress, then towards the Dept of Justice, but the Bush Administration chooses to muzzle this too-awkward witness, “to kill the messenger” like one says to the FBI, by exhuming an old law: the “secret States' privilege”. In short: Silence or the prison. Why? To hide what?

The Pitiless Microcosm of Washington

The business could have stopped there. But this is just the beginning for the small translator, flag-carrier for “whistle blowers”, a long struggle which the film-makers capture. A crusade for the right to the truth. And for the public, a diving haletante (?) in the twists and turns of the espionage. “When a woman leaves in war, she is never innocent" continues Mathieu Verboud. If a whistle blower can cause an earthquake, imagine when it is about September 11. It was thought that she knew an enormous secret. But the objective was also to show how the world of information had managed the terrorist attacks, the political pressures and the incompetence of the bureaucracy. ”

A work of really good investigation which required ninety days of filming and which took on board the film-makers during six months in the life of this “woman to be cut down”: "She authorized us to follow it all the more easily - as the press did not support her. She uses her public image like a strategy. But she gave us total freedom - so long as we did not ask about her specific secret.”

Their film thus points the failures of the internal investigations of the FBI, the hazardous methods, the flip-flopping, lies of the heartless microcosm of Washington, fully supported with testimonies, official speeches and recorded footage. Thus they follow senior officials, federal employees, intelligence agents (FBI, the CIA, NSA) who did not hesitate to come forward: “They needed to speak. In the information also, there are honest people. I wanted to show that the political power was certainly instrumental, but never the State had handled them as much”, insists Verboud.

The camera tracking faces, expressions, faintnesses. The result is the height of the ambition. Their accounts, pure and hard, are so rich in revelations and leaves the audience, incredulous, flabbergasted or disgusted, and will have the feeling of watching a psychological thriller which mixes suspense and reflexion. Just some lengths will be reproached. It certainly is a complex business.

This documentary which could have been only one investigation into how the Bush Administration defies national security, goes well beyond.

Putting in prospect the strange bonds between the American politicians, Turkey, Israel, Pakistan, diplomats, secret service, multinational weapons procurement, nuclear programs - léaire (?), this film casts an unexpected light on the global environment and the crisis in the Middle East."

"Film on Canal+ Don't miss - based on Vanity Fair's investigation - Sibel EDMONDS/FBI, Turk-English translator who translated the communications between the Speaker of the House and Turkish officials to receive bribes in order not to allow the resolution of the genocide to Congress in 2000

The life of Sibel Edmonds took a nightmarish turn when she was fired for mysterious reasons. Young translator having joined the FBI after September 11, she was sanctioned for her uprightness. Indeed, it discovered that one of her colleagues covered illegal activities of Turkish and American officials . She immediately informed her superiors of them. Their answer was to fire her. But the young woman decided to inform the media. Having allowed the cameras of Mathieu Verboud and Jean-Robert Viallet to follow her in her search for truth, she defies the FBI today.

The muzzled truth

A WOMAN TO BE CUT DOWN is a true espionage thriller on the only American citizen who dared to defy the F.B.I so that the truth bursts, and to ensure the Americans the safety that their government owes them.

“This real-life Whodunnit” is especially the history of Sibel Edmonds and her combat: how a translator, link of the complex chains of American information, discovers wiretaps blaming officials from America her allies. How it will defy those which threaten it, to overcome its fears and to defend the freedom which justifies its work for the country. And how, in the name of this same principle, the American authorities will prevent Sibel from speaking.

There is a true phenomenon around the translator, who has broad public support. Last April, Sibel Edmonds received from Paul Newman the “2006 First Amendment Award”, eminent distinction decreed by the PEN Club, an association in support of writers and the freedom of expression.

Revealed secrets

The work of the film-makers, at Sibel's side, explores the stakes of secrecy, was since the first day blocked by the State which justifies the threats against the young woman. Since September 11, 2001, the safety of the United States however allows innumerable distortions to the sacro-sanct personal freedoms. But higher interests seem to dictate the policy of the Bush administration…

Agents of the American Intelligence Community nevertheless “remain patriots” who validated the investigations of Mathieu Verboud. Those carry out in Turkey, Israel and to Pakistan, in the slides of the ministries for Justice and the Foreign Affairs, the F.B.I and the Pentagon. They join other significant businesses and mix business with weapons, technological espionage, nuclear black market, heroin traffic, money laundering, corruption - in particular with the American Congress - and serious threats, directly relating to national security.

A captivating and alarming investigation."

"“To always deny, always hide”. This is the currency of the American secret service. Sibel Edmonds learned to her costs.

Recall the facts. Only two months after having been employed by the FBI translation department, this woman of Turco-Iranian origin will be approached by Turkish spies within the service. After having referred about it to her superiors, she is laid off without explanation, and decides to attack in justice the FBI.

In vain, her lawsuit is rejected without reason and the Minister for Justice issues the secrecy of State on the business, thus prohibiting her from speaking about her discoveries. This documentary with the simple but effective realization plunges us in the slides of the administration Bush and it is far from being reassuring!"

"Who? Shortly after September 11, Sibel Edmonds, American of Turkish origin, is approached by the FBI to become translator in one of the most secret units. Patriotically, she accepts the job.

What? Quickly, the film demonstrates the presence of spies in the pocket of Turkish lobbies. It tells of the hierarchy, which dismisses her whole case. Sibel tries to warn the Congress, then justice, of her discoveries. But Justice Minister John Ashcroft stamps her entire case with "States Secrets"

Why? Mathieu Verboud and Jean-Robert Viallet reveal, in a palpitating investigation, the combat of this young woman against the FBI initially, then against the American authorities, whose lies hide behind the sacro-holy safety of the State"


Sibel Edmonds is 32 years old when she is contacted for the first time by the FBI, a few days after September 11, 2001. Like numerous other translators, this American, usually speaking Turkish and the Persian language, is committed to make up for lost time of the American information to decipher thousands of hours of phone-tappings.

A few weeks later, Sibel translates sulfurous conversations about money laundering, trafficking of weapons and drug, and corruption implicating American, Turkish and Israeli political personalities... Two months later, Sibel is approached by one of her translator colleagues and her husband. They propose to her, without ambiguity, a financial arrangement if she does not transmit all information which she translates. Informing her bosses at once, Sibel Edmonds enters an infernal process which lasts nearly five years. Because all her direct higher interlocutors and direction of the FBI order her to keep silent. And when she alerts the Department of Justice, she is immediately fired from the FBI and is formally prohibited from speaking. This extremely rare procedure, Secret State Privilege, obliges her to keep her silence, even in front of a judge, in the name of the secrecy of State.

The documentary clearly aims at presenting Sibel Edmonds like an angry, passionate American. The title says it all, since her combat becomes extensive since she created a coalition of "whistle blowers", a term indicating those which denounce the dysfunctions of the State, she gathers a hundred former members of the FBI, NSA, the CIA and Justice...

It is difficult to really understand why Sibel is silenced: the deep lack of curiousity of the American agencies about counter-espionage or a corruption installed at the most top of the State? One can only choose.

After the first US screening of Kill The Messenger in DC in February 07, a panel of journalists and lawyers discussed the film - James Bamford, Bob Parry, Kristina Borjesson, Ben Wizner and others. You can see a ten minute video of that here. Sibel also gave a short speech at the event, as did the two French co-directors, that video is here. I liked co-director Jean-Robert Viallet's observation:
Why are French people doing this film? Because nobody in America did it.

Kill The Messenger has been shown a few times in the US, but I'm not aware of any reviews appearing in the mainstream press. Hopefully our Canadian friends will take the lead of their French, rather than US, counterparts.