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Author: Mandy Nagy

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Mandy Nagy

Mandy Nagy (aka "Liberty Chick") was an investigative writer and researcher. She primarily covered the institutional left, protest movements, hacking and cybercrime, and technology. After suffering a serious stroke in September 2014, Mandy no longer was able to work at Legal Insurrection, but she's always on our minds and in our hearts. For more information, see here.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, along with Defense Department General Counsel Stephen Preston, appeared Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee for a hearing to address The May 31, 2014 Transfer of Five Senior Taliban Detainees. The agreement to release those five detainees when the U.S. arranged to recover Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from captivity has sparked controversy since those details became known. Another point of contention has been the Obama administration’s decision not to notify Congress of the exchange in advance.  Both of these were areas of focus that received much attention in Wednesday’s hearing. Hagel provided some insight into the negotiation process of the exchange at the start of the hearing in his prepared opening remarks, explaining that the opportunity came about quickly and many of the details had not been clarified until merely days before the exchange took place. This, he indicated, influenced the decision not to notify Congress in advance.  In addition, Hagel explained, there were concerns about potential leaks that could derail the process.
As the opportunity to obtain Sergeant Bergdahl’s release became clearer, we grew increasingly concerned that any delay, or any leaks, could derail the deal and further endanger Sergeant Bergdahl. We were told by the Qataris that a leak would end the negotiations for Bergdahl’s release. We also knew that he would be extremely vulnerable during any movement, and our military personnel conducting the hand-off would be exposed to a possible ambush or other deadly scenarios in very dangerous territory. And we had been given no information on where the hand-off would occur.
This sparked criticism from both sides of the political aisle. From the Wall Street Journal:

House lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday aimed at addressing some of the now high profile problems at Veterans Affairs facilities. From the Associated Press:
United and eager to respond to a national uproar, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday to make it easier for patients enduring long waits for care at Veterans Affairs facilities to get VA-paid treatment from local doctors. The 421-0 vote was Congress' strongest response yet to the outcry over backlogs and falsified data at the beleaguered agency. Senate leaders plan debate soon on a similar, broader package that has also drawn bipartisan support, underscoring how politically toxic it could be for lawmakers to be seen as ignoring the problem. […] The House bill would let veterans facing long delays for appointments or living more than 40 miles from a VA facility to choose to get care from non-agency providers for the next two years. A relative few vets already have that option for outside care, and this would expand the offer. The bill also would ban bonuses for all VA employees through 2016 and require an independent audit of agency health care. An earlier House-passed bill would make it easier to fire top VA officials. [House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman] Miller said VA would save $400 million annually by eliminating bonuses, money the agency could use for expanded care at its centers.
The legislation comes after weeks of reports of various issues surrounding the Department of Veterans affairs. The latest details to emerge came from an audit released Monday which revealed, among other things, that 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or longer for their first VA appointment, and another 64,000 never even got appointments. Some have urged for prosecution of some of the wrong-doing at the VA. At a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Monday evening, this again became a topic of discussion. From the National Journal:

An audit released by the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday indicated that more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting three months or longer for their first appointment with a VA facility. From the Associated Press:
More than 57,000 U.S. military veterans have been waiting 90 days or more for their first VA medical appointments, and an additional 64,000 appear to have fallen through the cracks, never getting appointments after enrolling and requesting them, the Veterans Affairs Department said Monday. It's not just a backlog problem, the wide-ranging review indicated. Thirteen percent of schedulers in the facility-by-facility report on 731 hospitals and outpatient clinics reported being told by supervisors to falsify appointment schedules to make patient waits appear shorter. The audit is the first nationwide look at the VA network in the uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center. A preliminary review last month found that long patient waits and falsified records were "systemic" throughout the VA medical network, the nation's largest single health care provider serving nearly 9 million veterans.
The report indicated that as part of its actions to address the problems identified, the VA would “critically review its performance management, education and communication systems to determine how performance goals were conveyed across the chain of command such that some front-line, middle and senior managers felt compelled to manipulate VA’s scheduling processes.”

The Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that "[protects] federal employees from reprisal and other prohibited personnel practices" and provides "a safe and secure channel for federal employees to disclose government misconduct," said it is investigating allegations of retaliation against dozens of whistleblowers in the Department of Veterans Affairs. From CBS DC News:
A federal investigative agency is looking into claims that Veterans Affairs supervisors retaliated against 37 employees who filed whistleblower complaints, including some who complained about improper scheduling practices at the heart of a growing health care scandal. The independent Office of Special Counsel says it has blocked disciplinary actions against three VA employees who reported wrongdoing, including one who was suspended for seven days after complaining to the VA’s inspector general about improper scheduling. The agency also blocked a 30-day suspension without pay for another VA employee who reported inappropriate use of patient restraints and blocked demotion of a third employee who reported mishandling of patient care funds, a spokesman said Friday.
The full press release from the Office of Special Counsel can be read here.

Lawmakers in the Senate reached a deal Thursday on the framework of a bill intended to address some of the recently uncovered issues related to the Department of Veterans Affairs. From the Associated Press:
Senior senators reached agreement Thursday on the framework for a bipartisan bill expanding veterans' ability to get health care outside the government's scandal-beset Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics. The bill would allow veterans who experience waits of 30 days or more for VA appointments or who live at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic to use private doctors enrolled as providers for Medicare, military TRICARE or other government health care programs. It would let the VA immediately fire as many as 450 senior regional executives and hospital administrators for poor performance. The bill resembles a measure passed last month by the House, but includes a 28-day appeal process omitted by the House legislation. "Right now we have a crisis on our hands and it's imperative that we deal with that crisis," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The legislation is a response to a building national uproar over veterans' health care following allegations that surfaced in April that as many as 40 veterans may have died while waiting an average 115 days for appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital or its walk-in clinics. Since then, investigators have found long wait times and falsified records covering them up at other VA facilities nationwide.
The agreement was announced Thursday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Meanwhile, Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson arrived for a visit at the Phoenix VA Health Care System Thursday.  He was expected to provide updates on what his office is doing to address the situation in which numerous veterans were intentionally left off of a wait list. Gibson indicated that most of those veterans have since been contacted to schedule appointments.

The U.S. military indicates it will conduct a new review into the circumstances of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance and captivity. From USA Today:
The U.S. Army said Tuesday it will launch a new review into the circumstances surrounding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl leaving his post and subsequent capture by the Taliban now that he has been released and can be interviewed. The new investigation comes amid mounting allegations by fellow soldiers and politicians that Bergdahl deserted his post and the search for him put additional troops at risk. The review "will include speaking with Sgt. Bergdhal to better learn from him the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity," Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement. The Army had already completed an earlier review that involved speaking with soldiers in his unit. Separately, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a Facebook posting that Army leaders would "not look away from misconduct if it occurred" in connection with the capture of Bergdahl.
A statement posted Wednesday at the Dept. of Defense website from Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno also promised a "thorough, transparent and complete review of the circumstances surrounding [Bergdahl's] capture." Fellow soldiers who claim to have served with Bergdahl have been speaking out in recent days, many of them critical of the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance and of the possible impact of subsequent search efforts. Some say the deaths of other soldiers could have been indirectly related to those search efforts.

Since the news broke over the weekend regarding the recovery of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, there have been mixed reactions from the public.  Many are obviously very critical of the decision to exchange what are now known to be some pretty bad guys. But there is also much discussion about the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s initial disappearance, much of which has been unconfirmed and unclear over the years. News reports are now surfacing that offer accounts from soldiers who claim to have served with Bergdahl. From CNN:
The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him, veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose "selfish act" ended up costing the lives of better men. "I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on," said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl's platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him."

Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the Gezi Park protests that subsequently persisted for months in Turkey last year.  As many tried to gather to commemorate that anniversary, authorities responded on Saturday by blocking access to some locations and cracking down on some of the protesters. From Reuters:
Turkish police fired teargas and water cannon on Saturday to disperse protesters in central Istanbul who sought to mark the one-year anniversary of the country's biggest anti-government demonstrations in decades. Authorities closed roads and stopped public transport to deny access to Taksim Square and the adjoining Gezi Park where government plans to raze the green space and build a shopping mall sparked last year's unrest. Police lines kept back activists who had hoped to read a statement at Taksim Square and lay flowers at the park to commemorate the deaths of at least six people in the protests against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's rule. Another half-dozen people died in sporadic unrest in the ensuing months as anger at Erdogan and his AK Party simmered.
Turkish plainclothes police also harassed a CNN reporter Saturday as he was in the midst of a live broadcast. From CNN:

The National Security Agency on Thursday released an April 2013 email exchange between former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and the NSA Office of General Counsel, saying it was the only correspondence it had from Snowden and that the email "did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse." From Reuters:
An email exchange released on Thursday shows Edward Snowden questioned the U.S. National Security Agency's legal training programs, but provides no evidence the former contractor complained internally about vast NSA surveillance programs that he later leaked to the media. Snowden responded in an email to the Washington Post that the release by U.S. officials "is incomplete." The release of the April 2013 emails between Snowden and the NSA's legal office is the latest round in a battle between Snowden, who casts himself as a crusading whistleblower, and U.S. security officials, who say he failed to report his concerns to superiors before acting.
The release of Snowden’s 2013 email exchange with NSA's legal office came a day after the former NSA contractor’s televised interview Wednesday evening with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams.  In that interview, Snowden told Williams that he tried to go through the proper channels inside the NSA before leaking documents to members of the press. From NBC News:

In his first interview with a U.S. television news station since leaking information about NSA surveillance programs, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden sits down with NBC News’ Brian Williams for a one hour primetime special.  The interview, which was conducted last week, will air this Wednesday and NBC News has released some early clips in advance. From NBC News:
Edward Snowden, in an exclusive interview with "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams, is fighting back against critics who dismissed him as a low-level hacker — saying he was “trained as a spy” and offered technical expertise to high levels of government. Snowden defended his expertise in portions of the interview that aired at 6:30 p.m. ET on Nightly News. The extended, wide-ranging interview with Williams, his first with a U.S. television network, airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC. “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine,” Snowden said in the interview. Snowden described himself as a technical expert who has worked for the United States at high levels, including as a lecturer in a counterintelligence academy for the Defense Intelligence Agency and undercover work for the CIA and National Security Agency. “But I am a technical specialist. I am a technical expert,” he said. “I don’t work with people. I don’t recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States. And I’ve done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top.”
Williams’ interview with Snowden comes after months of negotiation between NBC News and intermediaries for the former NSA contractor, according to the New York Times.  The interview was conducted in Russia, where Snowden has been living since being granted asylum there last year. That location alone apparently presented its own challenges for the interview.

Memorial Day is a time for remembering the men and women who died while serving in our nation's armed forces.  Every year, as I pay respect to those fallen, I’m also reminded of my grandfather, who we lovingly called “Poppy.” Poppy served in World War II, and I’ve previously honored him on other occasions with an excerpt from his own diary of his experiences in the war.  Among those experiences, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and endured things I could never even imagine.  And like so many others in his generation, he lost friends to the war, men who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Just as many did in wars before and after this. When I was a child, there were many times I helped Poppy put up the flag on the front porch of my grandparents’ home. It was something he did for specific holidays – Memorial Day, Independence Day, Flag Day, Veterans Day.  For me, those days seemed all about parades and such, and I wasn’t really as much aware as a child of the true importance of such days. But as silly as my grandfather often was with us as kids, I’d always remembered that there was something more solemn in his nature whenever he put up that flag, especially on Memorial Day.  Once the flag was up and flapping in the breeze, he would stand back and seemed to reflect for a moment or two.

Sunday was election day in Ukraine, and while turnout appeared heavy at polling stations in Kiev, it was a different scene in portions of the east.  Nonetheless, Petro Poroshenko declared victory after preliminary exit polls signaled he'd won the majority of the votes. From CNN:
Billionaire Petro Poroshenko declared victory Sunday in Ukraine's presidential election, following preliminary exit polls that suggested he got 56% of the vote. His closest challenger, former Ukrainian prime minister and leader of the Batkivshchyna party Yulia Tymoshenko, conceded the election after exit polls showed her with 13% of the vote. Poroshenko, a candy tycoon known as the "Chocolate King," is also a seasoned politician. The election took place Sunday despite a recent wave of deadly violence in the east and threats by pro-Russia separatists to prevent citizens from casting their ballots.
In February, Ukraine’s parliament ousted President Viktor Yanukovich from office and named an interim president, which was followed of course by months of continuing unrest, particularly in the country’s eastern region. Many of the polling stations were closed Sunday in the east, according to the Associated Press via ABC News:
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