Dissidents and Whistleblowers are a species that permeates not only our current world but all of recorded history. A few have been successful while millions have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Hitler’s concentration camps, and many current ones, were, and are, full of them. The UK-based Global Witness reports that at least 185 environmental activists were murdered in 2015 alone. Brazil led with 50, the Philippines 33, Colombia 26, Peru and Nicaragua 12 each, Congo 11, down to Guatemala and Honduras with a couple each. Most were opposing foreign-financed mining, logging, and hydro-electric projects.
But dissidents exist in all countries and in many fields: economic, educational, medical, military. political, religious, science, and society in general. Do they not also include you and me?
Thousands deserve our remembrance and appreciation for risking careers and lives to inform us just how much we were, and are, being exploited. Actually July 30th was declared National Whistleblowers Appreciation Day in 2013 by the US Senate when a 30 July 1776 Continental Congress law protecting whistleblowers was rediscovered. This law was passed to protect two sailors who were being prosecuted for exposing the misdeeds of the top US Navy officer. The US 4th amendment was to protect whistleblowers. It has many failures.
The saddest part of all this is that too many of us continue to stumble along, ignorant and ungrateful of sacrifices made to enlighten us and to promote justified reactions. Worse still far too many refuse to think and persist with mindsets inflexible to change. Thinking does require courage, action even more.
Lord John Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902) reminded us: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Travelling widely in elite circles in Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Italy, and the Vatican, he did have ample examples. In the US civil war he backed the South, not for slavery, but for States Rights as he feared a USA, led by the North, would be an aggressive behemoth.
Over the last few years Amnesty International has warned of an alarming proliferation of laws that restrict free speech in some 96 countries and that, even in Europe, the UK and US, terrorism fears have been used to induce measures that harm the ability of Human Rights NGOs to function. Even the Obama administration in the US is guilty of prosecuting more whistleblowers than all previous US administrations. Both Obama and Hillary argue Edward Snowden must return to the US to face trial while Trump calls him a traitor with whom he will deal harshly after he gets his friend, Putin, to kick him back to the USA.
We, in what we call the “West”, do enjoy freedoms to express our views even if money is too often used to influence information outlets and viewers are too often lethargic in exercising skepticism or in joining movements to effect needed actions, such as the Arab Spring, intifadas, Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists, and activists in such pursuits as climate change, population control, and gun laws. All this while discouraging armed militias, and hate groups, 784 of which exist in the US alone. When Obama was elected to a second term, armed militias increased to over 3,000 but are now down to about 1,100. This, with a dysfunctional Congress out to kill Obama’s initiatives, make for a difficult country to govern. Yet:
Hundreds of well-researched books, and e-books, and even more articles are available for those who take the time to read them. The pictures they paint reveal a human species with minorities so powerful and so terrifying that corrective actions are imperative and long overdue. Let us sample just a few whistleblowers:
Ida Tarbell 1901-04; Following Theodore Roosevelt’s campaign against business corruption, Ida amassed an extremely thorough 2-year investigation of John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil empire that had harmed small, independent Pennsylvania oil producers, including her father. She exposed malpractices in a series of 19 articles in McClire’s Magazine.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962: Overuse of pesticides killing birds and harming the environment.
Paul Erlich. Population Bomb 1968: World resources unable to sustain ever-increasing human population.
James E. Hansen, NASA, 2004-6: how the government downplayed and ignored climate change data.
Peter Buxton, US Public Health Service, tried for 6 years to halt the Tuskegee study of untreated syphilis started in 1932 on Black US soldiers. Finally it was stopped in 1972 when he informed the Washington Star.
Ronald Ridenhour, a helicopter gunner, exposed the 1967 My Lai massacre in which 347 unarmed Vietnamese men, women (many of whom had been raped) and children were murdered by members of the US 23rd Division. Only one soldier was punished: William Calley who spent 3.5 years under house arrest.
Daniel Ellsberg, US Marine Corps platoon leader in Vietnam, Harvard PhD, Rand Corporation analyst, Defense Department on counter insurgency in Vietnam, becomes convinced Vietnam a wrongful war, studies and copies Pentagon Papers, reveals to New York Times, arrested in 1971 for espionage, Henry Kissinger called him the most dangerous man in America. Charges dropped in 1973 and war ends in 1975.
In 2014 Icelandic and Swedish MPs nominated Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2015 Germany’s Green Party erected statues of Manning, Snowden, and Julian Assange in Berlin’s Alexanderplsatz. Why, then, is Chelsea still serving, under cruel conditions, a 35-year prison sentence in the USA, Edward a refugee in Russia, and Julian holed up for 4 years now in the Ecuadorian embassy in London?
Bradley/Chelsea Manning: In spite of having an alcoholic mother, a father whose job kept him on the road most of the time, being raised by an older sister, and with a persistent feeling of being a girl not a boy, Bradley Manning excelled in science and computers. He enlisted in the army hoping that exclusive male company would jolt him away from female tendencies. He was posted to Iraq where, due to trade shortages, he spent long hours computerizing data that included reckless helicopter attacks that killed innocent civilians. His attempts to stop this eventually led to him sharing thousands of files with Julian Assange of Wikileaks, his arrest, and current sentence of 35 years in prison much in solitary confinement and torturous conditions. He did manage to have authorities recognize his sex change to Chelsea, but she faces increased restrictions and imprisonment due to a recent suicide attempt Her many, worldwide, supporters argue her leaks pose no military dangers and that she should be freed for her humanitarian actions.
Julian Assange: With great ability at penetrating computer codes, Julian set up Wikileaks in 2006 to publish corporate wrongdoing, attaining world prominence in 2010 when he included Chelsea’s exposures. Later that year Sweden issued an arrest warrant on sex charges during a visit to Sweden. Claiming innocence, but fearing Sweden would extradite him to the US, he has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from which he continues to release accumulated documents including many that affect US electioneering.
Thomas Drake was a senior executive with NSA, 2001-08, who disagreed with the mass surveillance program. He tried approved channels to expose and dilute this. His home was raided and he was charged with espionage. After his career was wrecked and he was bankrupt all but one minor charge were dropped in 2011.
John Crane for 25 years was in the Inspector General’s office that ensured principled dissent to assist senior management, only to find the system was broken and that informers on minor housekeeping affairs suffered homes raided, gunpoint arrest, and careers ruined. His home was raided at gunpoint while he was in the shower and taken for questioning. He was fired in 2013. He went to the Guardian and Der Spiegel because they published the Snowden story on massive NSA surveillance. This led to Mark Hertsgaard’s book “Bravehearts - Whistleblowers in the Age of Snowden”
Edward Snowden: is exactly where the US intelligence community wants him so it is unlikely any politician or organization will get him back to the USA. He is a huge embarrassment to them, taking them from the Hero to the Big Brother role. Snowden insists his revelations in no way harmed US individuals or interests. Learning from Drake, Crane, and others he worked through the Manchester Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and is considerably better off than Manning. He continues to have visitors, conduct interviews, and influence the outside world. He warnings include: technology will continue to steal jobs from an expanding population, female inequality is inexcusable, powerful individuals within governments defy constitutions. He accepts his situation as the price to pay for following his conscious. The US intelligence community, he claims, waited to have his passport revoked until he was on a stopover in Russia en route to Latin America where the US had enough influence to get him quickly extradited. With no passport he was unable to continue.
NEW: I have found a new handyman and friend. I am amazed at how conscientious and capable he is in a wide variety of fields. I learned he was an MD who practiced in 2 states. When he exposed deadly diagnostic errors, he was appreciated by doctors but not profit-oriented managers, influential enough to bar renewal of his licenses and his $360,000 income for no valid reason, causing him to take 3-month medical stints in Saudi Arabia where he found much graft and maltreatment of foreign medical workers. Often their (and his) final month’s pay to be sent after arrival home never arrived. A spinal injury plus high legal costs to fight for license renewal now prevent him taking a permanent medical job. I am urging him to publish a book on how prevalent medical incompetence can be and the indifference of some humans towards others.