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Whistle-Blowing Takes Guts

February 6, 2012 ·

Bringing war crimes, diplomatic treachery, and animal abuse to light is dangerous.

See some cheating
Where you work?
Keep it quiet,
Dangers lurk.

As activist Medea Benjamin has said, "You are better off committing a war crime than exposing one" in the United States.

No government cares to be accused of a war crime. If you happen to commit one, your military bosses will move heaven and earth to cover for you and pretend it didn't happen. However, if you should instead expose a war crime, they will hunt you down like a dog and make sure you never again see the light of day. After all, reputations and careers are at stake.

Take Bradley Manning. He's accused of that most egregious of all capital offenses — revealing the truth. The military and diplomatic cover-ups he allegedly shared with WikiLeaks have further undermined the moral justification of war in Afghanistan and added fuel to the Arab Spring by revealing American support for despotic rulers. His prosecutors have now forsaken seeking capital punishment, but still want to lock him away where no one will ever find him.

bradley-manning-us-whistleblowers

Those U.S. prosecutors, however, have not yet forsaken the capital punishment threat for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, if they can only get their mitts on him. Currently, he's preparing for the debut of a new Russia Today talk show while under house arrest in the UK and facing extradition to Sweden.

Our government is lucky that the corporate media is disinclined to report any of the truly incriminating leaks. Owners and advertisers hesitate to rock the establishment boat. But unluckily for Washington, the media universe is expanding, thanks to the Internet.

Consequently, while the role of the White House in supporting certain dictators is under-reported here at home, other countries are well aware of it. And their people have gotten stirred up.

But war crimes and diplomatic treachery aren't the only ills that are dangerous for whistleblowers to bring to light.

"If you must sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy," the late Adm. Hyman Rickover, known as the father of America's nuclear navy, famously explained. "God will forgive you, but the bureaucracy never will."

This is an appropriate warning for civil servants who would report contractor fraud against the military, one of our nation's more popular corporate pastimes. Be prepared for the Pentagon to side with the crooked contractor and fire you. No bureaucrat can afford to have fraud discovered on his watch. It's bad for the career.

And if you happen to work for the crook, it's even worse. Not only will you be fired, but you will never find another job in the industry. If the crook is the government itself — say, one of the security agencies — you will doubtless be prosecuted. And if the crook is a corporation, you'll likely be sued.

Many in Congress understand these realities and over the years several pieces of whistleblower protection legislation haave been introduced. Most have gone nowhere, but it looks like prospects for a new law are bright.

Conversely, efforts are underway in Minnesota, New York, Iowa, Nebraska, and Indiana to outlaw a key tool used by factory farm whistleblowers and animal rights advocates. A series of proposed "ag-gag" rules would impose penalties of up to 30 years in jail for those who videotape the inhumane treatment of farm animals.

A similar initiative, I'm happy to report, has just fizzled in Florida's house and senate.

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