I met both Sandy Rubenstein and Jeffrey Sterling, two men in the news

There are days when remnants of my earlier exciting careers show up in the newspapers. Sometimes it’s a tidbit, or an obit. But sometimes the news is significant.

This past week two men I met, separately, while I was in my second career (legal amanuensis) appeared in the news. (For the full stories about my encounters with each man and my observations about them, you’ll have to wait until my collection of essays, “If Nobody’s There I’ll Talk to Anybody,” is published.)

First, Sandy Rubenstein.  A Rape Claim Has Put Sandy Rubenstein on the Edge of Disgrace – NYTimes.com. Alan Feuer writes:

Over the course of one week in early October, Sanford A. Rubenstein appeared on the front page of The New York Post four days in a row. It was a lot — even for him.

Mr. Rubenstein, a civil rights lawyer who has handled some of New York’s most explosive cases of police brutality over the years, has been featured so often on the city’s tabloid covers that some have joked he owns a time share there. But this run of publicity was different. The noisy headlines in 180-point type did not describe him as what he had been for decades: a man who fought the police on behalf of victims’ families. They described him as what he had become: a man accused of rape.

I met Sandy when he and the lawyers I worked for became co-counsels for Abner Louima. My personal characterization of Sandy would contradict at least one statement in Mr. Feuer’s paragraphs. But, well, you know − see above, re “If Nobody’s There.”

Later in his article, Mr. Feuer inserted a couple of paragraphs and a quote from a highly respected civil rights lawyer, Richard Emery, who offered a dryly understated opinion, with which I concur:

[Rubenstein’s legal] approach, which essentially applies personal-injury tactics to brutality cases, has earned him criticism from colleagues with a broader mind-set.

“There are some attorneys who do actual, substantial civil rights work; then there are others who take profits,” said Richard Emery, the chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board and a lawyer whose lawsuits have forced New York to halt the practice of strip-searching inmates on Rikers Island. “I put Rubenstein in the latter group.”

Mr. Emery and others acknowledged that financial compensation is a standard practice that does benefit individual families; nonetheless, they condemned Mr. Rubenstein as lacking vision, having an unseemly style and relying too heavily on money as a means of redress, especially when some of it goes to him.

Second, Jeffrey Sterling. Judge sets deadline for James Risen subpoena – POLITICO.com. Josh Gerstein writes:

A federal judge is giving Attorney General Eric Holder one week to decide whether to press forward with the Justice Department’s years-long effort to force New York Times reporter James Risen to testify against one of his alleged sources for reporting about a CIA effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema issued an order Tuesday telling DOJ that it’s time to make a call on whether Risen will be called as a prosecution witness when ex-Central Intelligence Agency officer Jeffrey Sterling goes on trial next month in Alexandria, Va. on charges of disclosing national defense information without authorization.

The Nation presented a crisp summary of Jeffrey Sterling’s case against his former employer, the CIA, and his current situation as a defendant. Here’s that section of the Nation’s article by Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler:

As for Sterling, Brennan played a role in his unhappy departure from the CIA a dozen years ago. In 2000, Sterling filed a discrimination complaint within the agency, asserting that he had been denied certain assignments because of his race. (Sterling was one of the CIA’s few African-American officers.) Brennan, as deputy executive director, was involved in rejecting Sterling’s claim. Sterling responded by suing the CIA; he was fired in 2002. The CIA rebuffed a number of settlement offers and then won dismissal of the entire lawsuit in 2004 after claiming that the litigation would expose state secrets.

In early March 2003, Sterling met with two Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to report that Operation Merlin—the CIA’s ill-conceived and bungled effort in 2000 to use a former Russian scientist to pass flawed nuclear-weapons blueprints to Iran—may have helped Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The government concedes that Sterling went through proper channels when he “disclosed classified information” to committee staff. (In court documents, the prosecution has complained that Sterling was unfairly critical of that operation when he spoke to committee staffers.)

Around 2000, Jeffrey Sterling came to the law office where I worked, to ask if the firm would take on his case against the CIA. None of the partners was there that day. I chatted with Sterling for a while, as he paced around in front of my desk, telling me about his situation.

I believe I collected whatever information he had and passed it on to one of the guys. I think that one of the partners contacted Mr. Sterling after that visit, but I don’t remember what, if any, decision was made about his case.

I await an authoritative history of the CIA that will confirm or disprove my strong impression that the Company, as it is called, has engaged primarily in misadventures and failed and disastrous missions since it morphed from the OSS.

In part, I developed this impression from a dark and brilliant 2007 TNT dramatized fact mini-series called The Company. Although I’d forgotten the cast, I did not forget the overall message: the CIA, for whatever reasons, is incompetent at its intelligence gathering and interpretation mission, and an utter fuck-up in its actions.

So the Nation’s description of Operation Merlin as an “ill-conceived and bungled effort” fits into my view of the CIA.


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