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As virtually all observers of the Global Fund (GF) operations know by now, the Board of the organization fired John Parsons, the Inspector General, in November 2012. At the time, Simon Bland, Chairman of the Board of GF, issued a press release that attempted to justify the termination by criticizing Parsons’ performance. In January 2013, Parsons filed two lawsuits at the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva. He’s suing GF for wrongful termination and defamation.
As a longtime observer of intergovernmental organizations and as an organization that defends whistleblowers, GAP recognizes a troubling pattern of events here that smacks of retaliation.
The facts are these. Parsons is a longtime auditor and investigator with forty years’ experience at increasingly responsible positions in both national and international settings. In 2011 his reports, as issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at GF, began to reveal a problem of what appeared to be corruption and fraud in certain grants. His findings were consistent with the concerns of Zubair Hassan, former CFO at GF, who reported to the Board that the organization’s internal controls were extremely weak and ad hoc. Hassan detailed these issues in a 12-page letter to the Board, just before he resigned, apparently under a great deal of pressure.
The Board convened a High-Level Panel (HLP) to explore the issues raised by both Hassan and Parsons in 2011. The HLP concluded that, of all oversight mechanisms at GF, only the OIG was functioning effectively.
The Board then fired the IG and issued a career-wrecking press release about Parsons to explain its actions.
In the meantime, the Board also removed responsibility for investigating Hassan’s allegations from the OIG, and the Chair of the Board contracted an ad hoc investigation. In removing the OIG from the process, the Board Chair also relieved the organization of its obligation to be transparent and release the report. Nonetheless, when asked, the Chair of the Board promised to release the report. A spokesman for the Global Fund, however, responded to GAP's request for the report two weeks ago to say that the Board received the report last May and decided not to release it. Hassan himself is unable to speak publicly. Presumably, he was forced to sign a non-disclosure (gag order) when he left the Global Fund.
So here’s the problem for the Global Fund. The United States, the organization’s largest single donor, can only authorize its contribution after the State Department certifies to the Congress that the OIG is functioning independently. It’s difficult to certify that the OIG is functioning independently when the Board fired the IG subsequent to his reports of corruption and fraud in the organization’s grants (actually, firing an auditor, investigator or IG under any circumstances raises red flags, but with this background, the flapping flags are large and bright).
At the same time, here’s the problem for Parsons, Hassan and the public. Parsons is muzzled while his case makes its way through the judicial process. In a normal court of law – from which GF and other intergovernmental organizations are shielded by legal immunities – filings such as Parsons’ would be public information. The taxpaying public – whose involuntary levies finance the GF – would hear Parsons’ side of this story. In the Administrative Tribunal at the ILO, where Parsons must file, however, all documents are confidential until the judges issue a ruling. On average, about two years elapse between a case submission and a decision. By 2014 or 2015, when we can expect a ruling in Parsons’ case, his reports will be utterly forgotten, operations will continue as before, and those who profit from the fraud will be fatter, happier and richer. While the sick and the poor in the developing world, whom GF claims to help, will be sicker and poorer. Many, of course, will be dead.
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Despite that the Obama administration stubbornly insists that it prefers to capture suspected terrorists rather than kill them, most suspected John Brennan swearing in as CIA Directorterrorists end up dead before they can be brought to trial.
Scott Shane of the New York Times reports on one suspected terrorist who was captured. To Shane's credit, he wades through the administration's double speak on capture vs kill:
“I have heard it suggested that the Obama administration somehow prefers killing Al Qaeda members rather than capturing them,” said John O. Brennan, in a speech last year when he was the president’s counterterrorism adviser; he is now the C.I.A. director. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
In fact, he said, “Our unqualified preference is to only undertake lethal force when we believe that capturing the individual is not feasible.”
Despite Mr. Brennan’s protestations, an overwhelming reliance on killing terrorism suspects, which began in the administration of George W. Bush, has defined the Obama years.
The myth is that the Obama administration would rather capture a suspected terrorist than kill one. The facts tell a different story. Shane reports that
Since Mr. Obama took office, the C.I.A. and military have killed about 3,000 people in counterterrorist strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, mostly using drones.
(And, the numbers of drone deaths are notoriously underestimated
Meanwhile, Human Rights First reported last summer on some 494 terrorism convictions won in Federal Courts - far more than in the constitutionally-inferior kangaroo court military commissions at Guantanamo - but nowhere near the number of suspects wiped off the planet courtesy of U.S. drone strikes.
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Associated Press: Hanford Contractor Reaches $1.1M Settlement in Whistleblower Suit Involving Training Program
A Hanford Contractor hired by the federal government to train workers involved in radiation clean-up work at the nuclear site has agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department. As part of the settlement, a whistleblower that filed a lawsuit under the False Claims Act in 2011 will receive $200,000. The suit alleged that the contractor, Fluor, used federal government money from the Department of Energy to lobby for additional government customers at another facility.
CBS5 Phoenix: Report – Arizona Lawmakers Bought by Corporate Interests
The nonprofit organization Common Cause has accused almost all of the Republicans in the Arizona state legislature of involvement in backroom partnerships with big corporations. The accusation was released in a report that alleges politicians took trips, stayed at luxury hotels and enjoyed other perks totaling up to $200,000, all on the dime of large companies hoping to pass legislation. The primary target of the report is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a nonprofit that has allegedly taken donations – all completely legal – from corporations and turned them into ‘scholarships’ for politicians.
Burton Mail: Ex-worker Who Blew the Whistle on ‘Corner-Cutting’ Firm Speaks Out
Evidence provided by a whistleblower has led to the prosecution of a British company that generally exhibited no regard for the safety of its workers. The company, which works on renovation and renewal projects, knowingly sent workers into asbestos-ridden sites, often without investigating or explaining the danger. This is not the first guilty charge related to health and safety standards in the company’s history. In 2005, the company was fined £8,000, a small sum compared to the £80,000 fined this year.
Arab American News: National Security Agency Whistleblower – How Much Freedom Must We Sacrifice for Security
In March, GAP client Tom Drake spoke at an event for the Muslim Legal Fund of America, along with FBI whistleblower and 2002 Time Magazine Person of the Year Colleen Rowley. The event focused on the ongoing threat of American civil liberties being jeopardized in the name of national security. Both whistleblowers spoke of significant shifts in the culture of America’s security agencies post 9/11 – a major concern of Muslim Americans facing discrimination and injustice today.
A book-release exhibition tonight in New York City will feature GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack. The new book, “Justice: Faces of the Human Rights Revolution,” is by esteemed photographer Mariana Cook. The work is a compilation of first hand accounts and photographed portraits of human rights leaders from around the world.
Honored in the book, along with Radack, are both well-known and less-often recognized leaders, politicians and activists who have devoted their lives to defending human rights. Aung San Suu Kyi, President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many others are featured.
In her own account, Radack writes, “Public servants should not have to choose between their conscience and their careers, especially their very freedom.” The event will surely honor and commemorate the spirit of truth-telling and human rights advocacy, as it praises those who have fought so hard to preserve those values in our world.
For details on the event, find the press release here.
Jack Davis is Communications Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
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GAP Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief as Detained, Tortured Whistleblowers Take on Rumsfeld
Last month, GAP filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Vance v. Rumsfeld. In that case, Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel worked as private security contractors in Iraq when they witnessed corrupt behavior from US and Iraqi officials, which they reported to the FBI. They were wrongfully detained, without charges, and subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" that then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had authorized to be used on detainees.
GAP’s brief highlights the gravity of the court’s decision in determining the right to judicial review for US citizens who are tortured. It also warns against creating a disincentive for civilians to serve abroad as military contractors, on which the US government heavily relies.
DailyRecord: Bridgewater’s Eric Murdock the whistleblower with Mike Rice Abuse Video
The Athletic Department at Rutgers University has announced the firing of its head basketball coach as a result of a whistleblower’s actions. The whistleblower, himself a New Jersey native and former NBA player, provided ESPN with a video compilation of the coach’s physical and verbal misconduct, including kicking and throwing balls at players.
The whistleblower compiled the practice tape video while working for the school's athletic department. He had served under the coach for two years before his contract was not renewed due to ‘insubordination.’ The fact that the coach is just being let go now – after so much damage has already been done – has led to questions concerning the judgement of the school’s athletic director as well.
TribLive: Turnpike Drops $700K in Public Money to Defend Against Whistleblower Lawsuits
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has been defending itself against whistleblowers, spending $700,000 of public money in the process. Several lawsuits have been filed claiming politics, favoritism and cronyism dictated back-room business deals. Watchdogs allege that the recent exposure is indicative of what has been going on for decades inside the commission. While the Turnpike won two of the cases against it, a recent grand jury report condemning the behavior of the upper management offers some vindication to the whistleblowers. The whistleblower’s claims are further supported by the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, who recently filed charges against eight people associated with the Turnpike Commission.
Food Product Design: Strike Out! FSMA Whistleblowers Bat Zero in FY11/12
According to Department of Labor statistics, there have been 38 complaints filed under the Food Safety Modernization Act's whistleblower provision since it became law in January 2011. None of the complaints, however, resulted in a finding that it had merit. The article states that it is too early to draw conclusions about the new provision's impact.
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The Columbus Dispatch: Anheuser–Busch Punishing Him, Whistleblower SaysAnhesuer–Busch Brewery in St. Louis
The brewing giant Anheuser–Busch is allegedly punishing a former employee with a lawsuit, in response to his claim that the company sells watered down beer. According to the whistleblower, several Anheuser–Busch beers are labeled with overstated alcohol contents, a claim that has already inspired numerous beer-drinkers to file lawsuits of their own.
Related Articles: Huffington Post
The Wall Street Journal: Aung San Suu Kyi on Her Human Rights Journey
A new book, “Justice: Faces of the Human Rights Revolution” by photographer Mariana Cook, honors human rights leaders from around the world by combining their portraits with first-hand accounts. Among the profiles are Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack.
A book-release exhibition will be held tomorrow in New York City, where Radack will be in attendance.
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Pioneer UN whistleblower James Wasserstrom will speak at a press conference next Monday, April 8, about a recent decision in his landmark whistleblowing case. Wasserstrom will travel from his post in Afghanistan to New York for the event. That morning he will also announce, and make available to the press, a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting the US government to withhold 15% of its funding to the United Nations in accordance with federal law requiring such if the organization fails to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
The press conference will be held at 10:00 am in the Landmark Room of the ONE UN Hotel, 1 UN Plaza, 44th Street between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue, in Manhattan.
Shelley Walden, international program officer for the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a nonprofit whistleblower protection organization representing Wasserstrom on advocacy issues, will join the whistleblower to discuss the broader implications of the recent judgment for UN whistleblowers. Stated Walden, "The Wasserstrom relief decision is just the latest evidence that the United Nations is not serious about protecting whistleblowers or holding itself accountable. Instead, the organization is sending a loud and clear message to its staff: Keep quiet."
Wasserstrom's letter, which will be distributed to journalists who attend the event, will describe the UN's failure to meet the whistleblower protection criteria established in the 2012 US Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2055). The law requires a 15% withholding of the US contribution to any UN agency if it "is not taking steps to ... implement best practices for the protection of whistleblowers from retaliation, including best practices for legal burdens of proof, access to independent adjudicative bodies, [and] results that eliminate the effects of retaliation..." Wasserstrom's letter suggests potential steps that the United Nations could take to address these shortcomings, and will request that the US government advocate for the release of a UN report on internal corruption in the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). To date, the United Nations has failed to publicly release this investigative report, which is based in part on Wasserstrom's disclosures.
UPDATED 4/8/2013: You can read the letter here.