Some say money can’t buy everything. But for BP, money sure seems to be able to buy enough litigation and lobbying power to stay in business, even with its persistent, egregious safety violations that have led to more than one deadly disaster.
While BP’s older crimes may have been overshadowed lately by the more current and devastating Gulf oil spew, it should not be forgotten that the company is still litigating charges related to a 2005 blast at a Texas refinery that killed 15 workers. With the Gulf oil spill and the 40-day release of toxic chemicals from its Texas refinery, BP has its hands full with not one, but three environmental catastrophes. All three remain unresolved.
2005 BP Texas City incident diagram
Regarding the refinery case, the Justice Department recently decided not to revoke the three-year probation it had imposed on BP due to the numerous safety violations (both criminal and civil) found during the federal investigation into the 2005 accident. Although the probation period allowed BP time to respond to violations, it has to date failed to properly respond to all safety issues or fully pay its fines. Although the government warned that it might revoke or renew the probation, it then backed off of its threat – presumably to avoid subjecting the company to further criminal prosecution. Of course, family members of those killed in the accident have been advocating for more, not less, prosecution.
Furthermore, a probe into safety issues at the refinery found that the initial violations noted by federal regulators only scratched the surface of a trove of (shock!) even more violations. This mirrors what we’ve seen in the Gulf – both in the spill itself as well as in the cleanup – where the information that has come forward continues to prompt yet more questions.
Photo by flickr user IBRRC
We now know that dangerous dispersants were being used in the cleanup and that BP was barring media access to oil-soaked sites. But why has the cleanup effort been shrouded in a veil of secrecy in the first place? What about the devastating ailments plaguing Gulf Coast residents, the reports of massive kill zones and dead marine life, and the widely disparate scientific studies on what’s happened to all that oil and dispersant? In light of a 1978 oil spill cleanup in Brooklyn, in which oil dating back to 1948 was found, somehow assurances that “75 percent of the oil is gone” don’t quite make sense. Let’s not forget that the initial (BP-backed) flow rate estimates of 1,000 barrels per day skyrocketed to over 60,000.
It seems that the more we continue to investigate BP, the more dark secrets we shall find. This is not a surprise. Yet, the question remains -- how far will it go before meaningful changes are enacted to protect those who have suffered from the carelessness of BP, and those courageous few insiders who have blown the whistle?
Lindsay Bigda is Communications Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.
The goal was simple and sick: U.S. soldiers wanted to kill an Afghan civilian and get away with it.
In December, members of a unit (3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment) began concocting the idea of putting together a "kill team" to murder an Afghan civilian and get away with it by creating a ruse that they were under attack. When Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs, described as the ringleader, began his second tour in Afghanistan, he bragged that it had been easy for him to get away with "stuff" (a.k.a. murder) when he served in Iraq in 2004.
On January 15, 2010, in Kandahar province, a solitary Afghan villager named Gul Mudin began walking toward some soldiers in the village of La Mohammed Kalay. The "kill team" activated the plan. As Mudin approached, Cpl. Jeremy N. Morlock tossed a fragmentary grenade on the ground to create the illusion that they were under attack. Pfc. Andrew H. Holmes saw the grenade and fired at Mudin. The grenade exploded, prompting the others to open fire on the villager, killing him.
On February 22, 2010, again in Kandahar province, Afghan civilian Marach Agha was killed by rifle fire near where the 3rd Platoon was stationed. Gibbs, Morlock and Spec. Michael S. Wagnon II are charged with the murder. Wagnon (who, like Gibbs, was on his second tour in Afghanistan and also served in Iraq) was additionally charged with taking "a skull from an Afghan person's corpse" as a souvenir, but it's unclear whether it is Agha's head.
Sometime in March, Gibbs, Wagnon, Staff Sgt. Robert G. Stevens, Sgt. Darren N. Jones and Pfc. Ashton A. Moore opened fire on three Afghan men, according to charging documents. Few details are provided.
On May 2, 2010, Gibbs, Morlock and Adam Winfield - whose father tried to alert the Army after his son told him about the disturbing first murder - are accused of tossing a grenade and fatally shooting an Afghan cleric, Mullah Adahdad.
If this macabre behavior was not bad enough, members of the platoon also have been charged with dismembering and taking trophy photos of corpses, as well as hoarding various human bones.
And the whistleblowers in all this? There are actually at least two. After the first murder, Winfield confided in his father, a former Marine. Winfield's father, with his son's approval, called the Army inspector general's 24-hour hotline, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a sergeant at his son's base, the Army's criminal investigation division, and the Fort Lewis command center--all to no avail. After word leaked that one soldier (presumably Winfield) had spoken to military police, several platoon members retaliated. They confronted the informant and beat him severely - punching, kicking and choking him, then dragging him across the ground. As a last warning, Gibbs menacingly waved finger bones he had collected from Afghan corpses.
These slayings are arguably worse than the slaughter depicted in the Wikileaks video, which appears to be an isolated incident of rogue soldiers killing unarmed Iraqi civilians and high-fiving each other as if it were a video game. (Not that there's a competition over who carries the American Express gold card for war crimes.) These serial killings were premeditated, done for sport, and occurred on at least three occasions.
Instead of psychoanalyzing the motives of the private who blew the whistle, as happened with Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, maybe this time we can focus on the barbarity of the war crimes committed and the retaliation against the whistleblower soldier who brought it to light.
If you're interested in finding out more about the Manning/Wikileaks case, here's a five-minute interview with me on the subject:
Jesselyn Radack is Homeland Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization. This post originally appeared in her Daily Kos column.
Today's Washington Post has a piece examining the potential mental health problems of Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of leaking the "Collateral Murder" video to Wikileaks.
Whatever the reality of Mr. Manning's mental health, or any whistleblower, it should not diminish the validity of the disclosures. Our country has studiously avoided having any meaningful conversation about why the soldiers in a U.S. Army Apache helicopter gunned down unarmed Iraquis, including children, while high-fiving each other as if they were playing "Call of Duty." Or, why the Army found no wrongdoing in this incident and tried to bury it. Manning's mental health gives us no insight there.
With the Obama administration cracking down on whistleblowers more than any past President, we must remember a whistleblowers' mental health does not reduce the significance of their disclosures.
I've chronicled the Obama administration's campaign against whistleblowers on Kos, including the latest prosecution of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim and:
While the Washington Post says, “Judges should not be in the business of second-guessing or micromanaging the executive's battlefield decisions.”
I submit that the Washington Post should not be in the business of second-guessing judicial decisions.
The Post implies there are other avenues available to hold high-level officials accountable, and the plaintiffs “should have availed themselves of processes within the military justice system to ferret out and punish miscreants.”
Prosecuting the Charles Graner's and Lynndie England’s of the torture universe is a band-aid on a bullet wound. The real responsibility lies at the top of the heap with the lawyers and officials who conceived the policies, none of whom have been held accountable for the use of coercive interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture).
While it's not clear from the editorial, the American citizen plaintiffs were not taken captive, blindfolded, strip-searched, held incommunicado almost entirely in solitary confinement often with blaring music, denied food and water, and subjected to sensory deprivation and harsh interrogation tactics for their own protection. They were taken captive because the powers that be feared the plaintiffs' potential whistleblowing.
The plaintiffs' kidnapping had nothing had nothing to do with the battlefield. They were kidnapped in 2006, three years after the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They were held at Camp Cropper, not in some temporary battlefield tent.
Everyone in America seems to have an opinion about who is responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Liberals blame Tony Hayward and the rest of BP's greedy and irresponsible management. Conservatives like to blame President Obama (in general) and the Mineral Management Services incompetent regulation (in particular). Then Sarah "Drill, Baby, Drill" Palin just knows that it isn't her responsibility.
The real answer is, "none of the above." Yes, BP's management and Mineral Management Services share some responsibility, but blaming them entirely ignores the fundamental problem of the 21st century workplace.
Sherlock Holmes once solved a baffling case by noticing that the dog didn't bark. It's the same clue here as well. Every one of the 126 workers on the Deepwater Horizon knew there were serious safety problems. Every one of them knew they were risking their lives every day they went to work. Why didn't they complain? Why didn't they call the OSHA, the EPA, the AFL-CIO, their Member of Congress, or the New York Times? The workers might not have known exactly who to call, but they could have found someone to pay attention. Why didn't they try?
The answer is simple; they didn't want to lose their jobs. Given the horrible choice of risking their lives at work or being unable to put a roof over their family's head, they chose danger. It's why miners work in non-union mines and why workers labor in meatpacking plants where there are more USDA inspectors than OSHA inspectors.
Today's Washington Post has an article on "TechExpo Top Secret," an intelligence community job fair. The "meal ticket" to getting a job with a company doing intelligence work for the U.S. or under U.S. government contracts: a top-secret security clearance.
Part of what makes this such an exercise in absurdity is that, in the ever-expanding top-secret world created to respond to 9/11, approximately 854,000 people -- 1.5 times as many people live in Washington, D.C. -- hold top-secret security clearances.
So while unemployment surges and the housing market tanks around the rest of the country, the fat secrecy industry of the Intelligence Industrial Complex has kept D.C. and the surrounding regions afloat.
I've been blogging here, to mixed reception, about the alarming increase of "leak" investigations and prosecutions under President Obama.
Yesterday, the L.A. Times had a lead editorial on "The Obama Administration's Attacks on the Media."
[T]his administration has pursued a quiet but malicious campaign against the news media and their sources, more aggressively attacking those who ferret out confidential information than even the George W. Bush administration did.
It specifically mentions the cases of James Risen, one of the New York Times reporters who broke the warrantless wiretapping story, and Thomas Drake, a former NSA official indicted for supposedly leaking details of NSA secret surveillance programs to the Baltimore Sun.
Risen and Drake are bookends of a disturbing trend of the "Transparency President": keeping information from the public.
The indictment of Tom Drake under the Espionage Act weaves a sordid tale of intrigue about how Drake committed dastardly deeds by leaking classified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter. But Drake never gave classified information to a reporter. Upon a close read of the indictment, he is not charged with "leaking" (there is no such crime) anything at all. Rather, he is charged with retention of classified documents for the purposes of distribution (there is no such crime).
The L.A. Times nails what this is prosecution is really about:
The [Baltimore Sun] reported extensively on technical problems with an NSA program that Drake was involved with; that reporting embarrassed the government, which indicted the individual it says brought about that embarrassment. That smacks of retaliation, not legitimate protection of sensitive information.
Tom Drake is a whistleblower we would have applauded during the Bush years, but now he is facing 35 years in jail.
In news regarding automaker Toyota’s continuing problems with “unintended acceleration” – a sudden increase in speed that may be linked to several accidents and deaths since 2001 – preliminary findings from federal officials seem to support the company’s claims that problems lie not in faulty electronics, but rather in other issues such as sticking pedals, floor mat entrapment, and driver error.
Government regulators are investigating this issue using data collected from Toyota’s ‘black box’ recorders – devices installed in vehicles that record data such as velocity and acceleration. Of course, keep in mind that federal regulators are reviewing the accuracy of Toyota’s electronic system with an electronic device made by… Toyota? On this note, a handful of safety consultants are asking similar questions, such as: Is the black box device a scientifically validated instrument?
I have an article today in The National Law Journal reviewing what would otherwise be a trifling book by a Bush-era neocon . . . but for the fact that President Obama is following its recommendation to prosecute whistleblowers under the Espionage Act. It's bad enough that Obama's Justice Department is on its way to setting a record for leak prosecutions, but the fact that they are doing so under the Espionage Act--which is meant to prosecute spies not whistleblowers--is especially pernicious.
Real lives are at stake. Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA official who blew the whistle on an astronomically expensive and unconstitutional secret surveillance program, is facing 35 years in jail.
Gabriel Schoenfeld's book, Necessary Secrets, identifies a problem--the publication of true facts that are secret--but he never plumbs the deeper and more salient question:
In the latest turn in the WikiLeaks saga, the Pentagon is now “demanding” that the organizationtake down the trove of documents it posted related to the Afghan War, so that the website might redeem itself to “do the right thing.”
The “right thing?” Let’s recap for a sec.
Two weeks ago, WikiLeaks spawned a media sensation by posting privy, classified information about the Afghan War. It did this in conjunction with three of the most reputable media outlets in the world – The New York Times, The U.K. Guardian, and Der Spiegel. Granted, these outlets did not post anywhere close to a sizable percentage of the documents that WikiLeaks did. Therefore, each can’t vouch for all of the documents and its relative worth (we’ll get to that more in a minute). But each organization independently determined that the information contained therein had inherent value to the public interest. Each chose to write not a few simple stories, but dedicated multimedia presentations to their own releases. Their stories did not focus on WikiLeaks, but the information. To remind, some of the more interesting/shocking details of the online materials included: