Rights Wronged

A U.S. customs agent says he was fired because he blew the whistle on colleagues who abused the rights of a Muslim man

During his 13 years with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), Special Agent Greg Miller averaged one service award every two years. Because of his undercover work, high-profile criminals and persons who posed a threat to the United States were thwarted and imprisoned.

Miller had his dream career, a substantial salary and was slated for promotion.

Today, all of that is memory. He is without a steady job or pension and says he is suffering from a stress-related illness. And all of this, he says, is the result of whistle blowing on two of his superiors for allegedly violating of the civil rights of a Muslim.

Miller's troubles began Sept. 10, 2002, almost one year to the day after Sept. 11. That's when a SWAT team invaded the Tucson home of a Middle-Eastern man without, according to Miller, his agency considering its own Use of Force Policy.

The terrified man ended up face down in his driveway.

Miller claims that items seized in the raid were not listed in the warrant. Property--including a computer and engineering textbooks--were confiscated and to date have not been returned. The man was fingerprinted and photographed without being charged with any crime. Furthermore, Miller says, he witnessed the bruises the man received at the hands of government agents, and says that Customs justified its actions by labeling the man a terrorist.

No charges of any kind were ever filed against the man, whose problems apparently started because he loaned his business license to the wrong person. No one involved in the car theft ring that was broken up in Tucson and Phoenix that day was ever charged with terrorist activities or linked to terrorist organizations.

Miller contends that if his agency had followed its own policies, it would have determined that the man did not qualify for a SWAT invasion. Enforcement, he says, must provide a justification to dispatch a SWAT team to use "hard tactics." Justification would include documenting the presence of vicious dogs--there were no dogs--or having reason to believe the person was armed and presented a danger to officers. According to Miller, no such evidence was presented, and none existed.

The civil rights violations charges Miller made against his two superiors carry prison penalties of up to 10 years.

No one at U.S. Customs will comment on Miller's allegations, citing an ongoing case. The Muslim man at the center of Miller's charges will only say through his lawyer that he is grateful to Miller for standing up for him.

"It's not like someone got a speeding ticket," Miller says. "The Constitution was violated. I would have stood up for anyone whose rights were being violated."

Freedom of Information Act requests for the results of the investigation Customs made into Miller's charges against his superiors received a cursory note--six months after the request was submitted--stating that the request would be processed in the order in which it had been received. The Freedom of Information/Privacy Rights Branch of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division responded quickly to the same request, explaining in legalese that privacy restrictions would not allow for comment.

Miller has a different explanation as to why inquiries hit the ICE wall: "There was no investigation into my charges. Nothing was ever done," Miller says. "No interviews were conducted, nothing."

Instead, charges involving past activities that had never been questioned before were brought against Miller, he claims. He was charged with unlawful disclosure, lack of candor, conduct inconsistent with undercover operations and the unauthorized use of a home computer.

"They knew I used my home computer because they wouldn't buy me one," Miller says. Miller had his gun taken away and was sat down at a desk until his formal dismissal.

As part of his undercover work, Miller says he had been arranging the sale of cruise-missile engines, considered weapons of mass destruction, in a $1.6 million deal to the Iranians.

"Customs closed an investigation about weapons of mass destruction just to retaliate against me," Miller claims. Since his firing, Miller, who currently works as a freelance investigator for various federal government departments, says he has informed other federal agencies of the facts of the Iranian case, and they have continued the investigation.

Asked if he would do it all over again--knowing the consequences of the whistle-blowing--Miller says simply, "Yes, I'd do it again."

In his most recent contact with Customs' legal representatives, he was offered a 40 percent disability retirement if he would deny that the stress-related illness he has been treated for since his dismissal was caused by the retaliation he received. Miller's response?

"'No thank you.' I told them I'd be back at the agency and continue the fight."

And what about whistleblower protection laws enacted in 1989? "I had a supervisor admit that I was being punished for protecting the Muslim, and not for the charges they drummed up. Another agent wrote in a memo for management in their case against me that I showed poor judgment by interfering with the search warrant involving the Muslim. So far, they have totally ignored the smoking guns, and I have been denied whistleblower protection."

Miller's four attempts at whistleblower status have been denied by the Office of Special Council and the Merit Systems Protection Board. His fourth rejection is on appeal and is currently being reconsidered by a judge.

"If I get whistleblower status, I get all my back pay; I will be returned to my job; I will possibly get my promotion that was denied on six occasions after the incident, and I will be granted protection from further retaliation."

If not, Miller still has the question before the court as to whether or not he was justly fired.

"If I win my firing hearing, Customs has already told me they will adjudicate me mentally ill and medically retire me anyway," he says.

Miller's appeal is currently winding down in an internal government court system and could be his last allowed. He has no recourse in civilian court.

"Whistleblower status is the best thing that could happen for me," Miller says. His court date is scheduled for Feb. 9.

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