After being targeted by the federal government for years of scrutinizing former President George W. Bush’s handling of foreign affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan, Juan Cole — professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian history — instigated a formal investigation of the administration claiming it unlawfully sought personal information about him.
University officials and professors said that his blog, the Informed Comment, is protected under the first amendment right to free speech, and that the U.S. government is violating his constitutional rights by embarking upon a personal investigation of Cole for the blog entries he wrote regarding the war.
According to a June 15 article in The New York Times. Glenn Carle, former Central Intelligence Agency official and National Intelligence Council counterterrorism expert, said he had been asked to gather incriminating personal information against Cole in 2005 in response to his anti-war blog, the Informed Comment, and that believes that the Bush administration was out to “get” Cole.
On Thursday, Cole acknowledged on his blog that the Informed Comment likely unsettled the Bush administration and prompted it to target him, especially since he has denounced the Iraq War from its inception.
“It seems to me clear that the Bush White House was upset by my blogging of the Iraq War … which contradicted the propaganda efforts of the administration attempting to make the enterprise look like a wild shining success,” he wrote.
Cole also wrote that it came as a “visceral shock” to him that the White House had devoted so much attention to his personal activities, considering the CIA “had no business spying on American citizens.”
Faith Sparr, a University lecturer who has led courses on media law and ethics, said the Bush administration’s alleged targeting of Cole is “yet another attempt to … gut the First Amendment.”
She said Cole’s case is complicated because in order to build a free speech violation case against the administration, Cole would need to demonstrate that the Bush administration’s behavior was retaliatory against him. Furthermore, she said Cole would need to prove that the actions taken against him violated government statutes.
“I think the question, at least initially, is, ‘Did they violate law?’” Sparr said. “Can they show they violated the statutory law in trying to investigate (Cole)?”
In response to Carle’s allegations, University Provost Philip Hanlon wrote in a press release that academic freedom in scholarship is vital to the University and should not hinder the work or personal exploits of professors like Cole.
“While Professor Cole’s views are his own, the University steadfastly and unequivocally stands behind the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression,” Hanlon wrote in the release. “Free expression of views is essential to dynamic dialogue and debate.”
LSA Dean Terrence McDonald wrote in an e-mail interview that he was surprised by the severity of Carle’s accusations.
“I was shocked and disappointed to hear of this,” McDonald wrote. “The allegations, if proven true, are a serious attack on Professor Cole’s first amendment rights.”
Geoff Eley, chair of the University’s Department of History, said he found the allegations upsetting, especially because of how upstanding Cole has been in his field.
“Juan Cole is an extraordinarily well informed, judicious and astute analyst of Middle Eastern affairs,” Eley said. “And he’s one of the best and most reliable sources for contemporary events.”