Death Sentence for a Whistleblower?

Posted: Feb 21, 2006 12:05 AM
By the end of the month, Bureau of Prisons employee Joe Mansour faces what could well be a death sentence. His crime? After being ignored by BOP higher-ups, he warned Congress and the public about the spread of radical Islam in the federal prisons—and his employers’ inability to cope with the growing crisis.

During his disability leave—from which he is slated to return on February 27—Mansour has been informed of threats from Muslim inmates at the prison in Lee County, VA that he considers credible, which is why he has filed numerous transfer requests. Unfortunately for Mansour, his employer apparently does not feel the same. Though such requests are routinely granted, BOP has denied or ignored each one.

Mansour was interviewed on camera by NBC News last March, and he discussed his role in translating Arabic communications of inmates, including in terror-related cases. That was not all. Among other things, he was an acknowledged source for this journalist in a front-page Washington Times story last July on BOP’s lack of Arabic translators. Consequently, he says, many Muslim inmates who used to harbor less suspicion of him because he’s Muslim now view him as a traitor, someone who has attacked Islam.

Anyone who wonders what a fundamentalist Muslim might be capable of when he believes his religion has been offended needs to look no further than the murderous riots around the world protesting a cartoon. Add to that mix the fact that many, if not most, of the Muslim inmates in federal prison are there for violent crimes, and the real question is why the BOP didn’t act on its own initiative to move Mansour to a new facility.

When questioned last summer by aides to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), BOP officials bizarrely claimed that Mansour was not, in fact, a whistleblower. They asserted that Mansour was simply bootstrapping the whistleblowing to a discrimination complaint he filed in 2004, in which he alleged harassment by co-workers because of his Arab ethnicity.

But not only did Mansour ask for no money in his complaint, but he first warned his superiors in an April 2003 letter that letters and phone calls of terrorists were going “unmonitored due to a lack of Arabic speaking staff.”

Looking at the actions of both Mansour and the BOP, it is hard to believe that the situation is anything other than as it appears: a whistleblower whose motives are purely being punished by an embarrassed and vindictive employer.

Though born in Lebanon, the safety and health compliance officer exudes more patriotism than most Americans. He loves his adopted country and wants nothing more than to serve it. When he was asked to translate Arabic communications in terror-related cases, he did so without hesitation.

And when he realized that his employer was shockingly ill-equipped to translate inmates’ Arabic correspondence—BOP houses well over 100 prisoners with “specific ties” to international Islamic terrorist organizations—he acted just as swiftly. He assumed—incorrectly, as it turns out—that the BOP cared as much as he did about dealing with the threat posed by Islamic radicalism inside the federal prisons.

Until Mansour’s whistleblowing found an audience on Capitol Hill last spring, the BOP had not hired even a single full-time Arabic translator. The agency had instead relied on an informal list of 17 BOP employees who claimed to have Arabic proficiency—it was the honor system, as they were never tested—and then retaliated against Mansour by dropping his name from the list.

Transparently in response to Mansour going public, BOP last year hired three Arabic translators (for the entire country), which is more fig leaf than substantive response given that many more translators are necessary to address the agency’s needs. BOP seems to have no interest in actually addressing its problems, though, as it could easily hire Mansour as an additional translator. But the agency did not even interview the native Arabic speaker when he applied for the position—a slot only created because he went public.

Here’s what BOP has done. After eight straight years of “outstanding” or “superior” performance evaluations, Mansour received only a “satisfactory” rating in 2004. He has repeatedly requested a transfer, almost any transfer. BOP has refused. Mansour was willing to take a demotion and over a $10,000 cut in salary. He even offered to pay his own moving expenses. BOP inexplicably has refused.

While BOP’s motivations could probably be chalked up as nothing more than the product of stubborn pride in refusing to admit its own mistakes, the potential consequences for Mansour are anything but typical. He could die. Anyone who reads a newspaper knows that that is hardly hyperbolic.

Before it refuses yet another transfer request from Mansour, the BOP must ask itself a simple question: how much is its pride really worth?