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The Washington Post reports:
The Air Force said Monday that it had fined the former commander of the Dover Air Force Base mortuary $7,000 and suspended his top deputy for 20 days without pay for retaliating against whistleblowers, but it allowed both men to keep their jobs.
The punishment came in response to an independent federal investigation that concluded the mortuary’s leadership had wrongfully tried to fire two subordinates after they reported missing body parts, lax management and other problems at the base that handles America’s war dead.
This is an encouraging result, but unfortunately it is far from typical. These officials did not receive discipline until after the revitalized Office of Special Counsel launched an investigation and found "gross mismanagement" at Dover
after whistleblowers reported horror stories of lost body parts, shoddy inventory controls and lax supervision.
The OSC also found that the supervisors had retaliated against the whistleblowers and
tried to fire two of the whistleblowers and placed others on suspension and indefinite leave.
Beyond OSC's hard-hitting investigation, aggressive main-stream-media coverage (largely from WaPo) spotlighted the wrongdoers even more, and members of Congress and the Secretary of Defense himself got involved in urging for accountability for the retaliating officials:
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Courtesy of the US ArmyTony Shaffer's best-selling Operation Dark Heart is a three-fer for whistleblowers. It is a page turning war story that the Army Times dubbed "big screen material." It illustrates how a holistic intelligence and battle strategy can make the difference between victory and defeat, explaining why we are still in Afghanistan today when we were clobbering the Taliban in 2003: namely that a Pentagon politico-bureaucratic complex canceled what was working. Second, its highly censored, blacked-out text illustrates the caricature that national security agencies have made of classified information. Finally, it is a slam dunk case study illustrating why the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) is essential to protect our country's security, and the patriots who defend it, from our own government.
First, the adventure. Shaffer joined Army counterintelligence in the late 1980s when he was 18. By 1991 he was running the Army's clandestine HUMINT counter-intelligence program. He was part of a program called Able Danger that uncovered the operation of 9/11 lead hijacker Mohamed Atta a year before the tragedy. Again the politico-bureaucratic complex blocked Shaffer from following through. More on that later.
Disillusioned, Shaffer volunteered for deployment to Iraq, arriving in July 2003 for what became a seven-month initial tour. It certainly was not all glory, as illustrated by the book's opening sentence: "It's damned hard to sleep with your head propped up on the butt end of an M-4." Especially when you're standing up in an open-air Chinook helicopter thumping through the Afghanistan mountains in sub-freezing weather! He arrived in Bagram, Afghanistan, to operate out of a surreal world of football field-sized tent cities.
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State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren writes in TomDispatch today about the escalating retaliation taken against him since he wrote a book about massive reconstruction fraud in Iraq: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
Van Buren writes:
For the crime of writing this book and maintaining a blog that occasionally embarrasses, State Department officials destroyed my career, even as they confirm my thesis, and their own failure, by reducing the Baghdad Embassy to half its size in the face of Iraq's unraveling.
Even as the Secretary of State rails against suppression of free speech abroad, the State Department continues to retaliate and threaten Van Buren for a book written in his personal capacity on his personal time.
Van Buren detailed some of the retaliation, which tellingly began shortly before his book's publication:
Without allowing any rebuttal or defense, State suspended my security clearance, claiming my blogging was an example of “poor judgment,” transferred me from a substantive job into a meaningless telework position, threatened felony conviction over alleged disclosure of classified information, illegally banned me from entering the building where I supposedly work, and continues to try to harass and intimidate me.
“The State Department was aware of Mr. Van Buren’s book long prior to its release,” explains attorney Jessleyn Radack, who now represents me. “Yet instead of addressing the ample evidence of fraud, waste, and abuse in the book, State targeted the whistleblower. The State Department’s retaliatory actions are a transparent attempt to intimidate and silence an employee whose critique of fraudulent, wasteful, and mismanaged U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq embarrassed the agency.”
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Giraffe Heroes ProjectTo start the new year, Marine Corps whistleblower Franz Gayl – who recently was allowed to return to work in a remarkable victory for a Defense Department employee – received a Giraffe Commendation, an honor awarded by the nonprofit Giraffe Heroes Project to people who "stick their necks out for the common good." From the organization's website:
Franz Gayl is a committed Marine vet, loyal as all good Marines are, to the Corps. Working as a civilian advisor in the Pentagon, he saw reports from combat officers that Humvees were death traps for Marines and soldiers in Iraq. Field commanders were asking for the better-armed MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. It wasn't happening. Gayl pushed Pentagon channels. Nothing happened. So he went to the press and to Congress. The Pentagon took away his security clearance, making it impossible for him to work. He's widely credited with the Defense Department finally ordering the MRAPs and with the Secretary of Defense proudly saying they were saving thousands of lives. An official inspection of Gayl's case ordered the Pentagon to re-instate him. Do you wonder how many soldiers and Marines died or lost limbs during the years it took to answer the field commanders' urgent request?
GAP commends the Giraffe Heroes Project wholeheartedly, both for recognizing Franz' role in protecting our troops, and for being so supportive of whistleblowers in general. At GAP, we strongly believe that the tribulations of whistleblowers should be known, and that all citizens should be made aware of how important whistleblowers are to democracy. Whistleblowers should be honored for their courage and standing up for the truth. The Giraffe Heroes Project helps make this happen.
Ironically, the first day he was back on the job, Gayl's new supervisor announced he would be demoted and stripped of all science and technology" duties. Apparently the Marines' response to lifesaving whistleblowing is "Never Again." So much for the rule of law.
Dover Air Force Base in Delaware is the main entry point for most of the nation's war dead. Photo courtesy of Flickr user BiggunbenI wrote last week about the Office of Special Counsel's (OSC) investigation into grotesque mishandling of soldiers' remains at Dover Mortuary. Courageous whistleblowers and a revamped OSC led by Carolyn Lerner deserved gratitude, I wrote, "for trying to ensure that our fallen are treated with reverence, dignity and respect, not treated like pieces of garbage." Unfortunately, the simile was literally true, as WaPo later reported:
The Dover Air Force Base mortuary for years disposed of portions of troops’ remains by cremating them and dumping the ashes in a Virginia landfill . . .
The lame response from the Air Force demonstrates the lack of accountability:
Asked if it was appropriate or dignified to incinerate troops’ body parts and dispose of them in a landfill, [Air Force’s deputy chief for personnel Lt. Gen. Darrell G.] Jones declined to answer directly. “We have recognized a much better way of doing things,” he said. “Let me be emphatic: I think the current procedures are better.”
As is too often the case when whistleblowers expose misconduct, WaPo reports
today that the whistleblowers received more punishment than the officials responsible for the disrespectful mistreatment of soldiers' remains.
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Dover Air Force Base in Delaware is the main entry point for most of the nation's fallen soldiers. Photo courtesy of Flickr user BiggunbenThe Office of Special Counsel (OSC), thanks to whistleblowers, uncovered "gross mismanagement" at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary, which cares for the United States' war dead, after whistleblower James G. Parson Sr. (an autopsy and embalming technician) and two other whistleblowers reported, among other horrific indignities:
Misplacing a dead soldier's ankle and another set of remains that had been stored in a plastic bag.
Sawing off a damaged arm bone of a Marine so he could fit in his uniform and coffin, but not telling the family.
Permitting an Army hospital in Germany to ship fetal remains in reused cardboard boxes back to the U.S. for burial instead of in aluminum transfer cases.
Losing or mishandling the remains of four other deceased service members.
Predictably, the Air Force disciplined by did not fire the mortuary commander and two other senior officials. Let's just hope that the whistleblowers are not now prosecuted under the Espionage Act for exposing what is clearly government abuse of the most unholy order.
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On Tuesday, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the validity of a constitutional rights claim against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for his role in the torturing and illegal imprisonment of a U.S. citizen who was working as a translator in Iraq.
This was a good decision. Released publicly yesterday morning, the case, John Doe v. Donald Rumsfeld, et al, (No. 08-cv-1902 CKK), is available here.
Out of many suits brought against Rumsfeld over the torture of detainees in Iraq, this is only the second case that has been allowed to proceed. GAP is co-counsel in this suit, along with Chicago-based civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy.
The other case that is proceeding against Rumsfled, by the way? Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel v. Donald Rumsfeld, et al (06 C 6964). Those in the whistleblower community might remember Vance as the winner of the prestigious Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize back in 2007, which is really one of the highest national honors a whistleblower can receive. Last year, a federal court in Chicago held in Vance that two American citizens who were also tortured while detained by U.S. forces in Iraq could bring constitutional claims against Rumsfeld. That decision is currently on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. A decision is expected soon.
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An Associated Press story is making the rounds right now (appearing in scores of outlets across the country) about how one of the members of an infamous Stryker Brigade (which killed Afghans for sport) is going to accept a plea deal, and go to prison for less than eight years. The text of this article seems factually solid. We rely on AP stories all the time for government accountability, civil liberties, and whistleblower stories. It's a great organization.
But sometimes, because the Associated Press keeps it brief, important aspects of stories get lost in the shuffle. In this case, it would have been nice if the story text – or more importantly, the headline – had not made it seem like this was the sole whistleblower on the case. Because a very different whistleblower from this Stryker brigade, who is not being charged with murder or any sort of killing, came forward to investigators about these undeniably immoral acts. That whistleblower was severely beaten by his fellow troops. In fact, in reading the Rolling Stones piece about this rogue death squad, that whistleblower wasn't far from being killed (in retaliation) himself.
This is an important distinction, because there are still numerous individuals in America, and the world, who attempt to tar whistleblowers with negative connotations like rats, snitches, finks or whatnot. This headline (and story, to an extent, by its omission) makes it seem like the only whistleblower in the case also had a hand in murder. Which then can raise questions over true intentions of the whistleblower, his personal moral code, etc. In short, this helps keep negative stereotypes going.
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Shame the government into doing the right thing. It worked in the case of NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, the target of a retaliatory Justice Dept. prosecution that finally died last Friday, after collapsing under the weight of groundswell public protest (and a lack of evidence by the prosecution - when presiding Judge Bennett forced the Justice Department to show its cards days before the trial and, empty handed, DOJ acquitted Drake of all criminal charges).
Franz Gayl, Marine Corps Science Advisor and former Marine, exposed the fact that the Corps ignored an urgent request from troops in Iraq for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) – state-of-the-art vehicles that prevent the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government responded by paralyzing Gayl professionally through suspension of his security clearance. GAP and our sister organization, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), are calling for an end to this retaliatory treatment.
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As reported today by the NYT, the complete Pentagon Papers are set to (finally) be released, about 40 years after making headline news. The whistleblower in that case, Daniel Ellsberg, has been recognized widely by the 'good government' community as the "patron saint" of whistleblowing. At a time when the negative connotations involved with whistleblowers were enormous and all too commonplace, he put his professional career, reputation, and the overall well-being of his family on the line to speak the truth about the Vietnam War. Ellsberg, who has graciously appeared with GAP on several occasions to promote our work and the importance of the phenomenon, was on the right side of history.
This announcement comes at an interesting time, because there's another prominent whistleblower who's about to go to trial -- who's also on the right side of history. Former NSA employee Tom Drake is being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for retaining, not leaking, classified information about a data collection program that was amazingly expensive, threatening to Americans' privacy rights, and wholly undeveloped, despite the availability of a cost-effective, functional alternative that respected Americans' privacy.
Drake (a GAP client) did what he was supposed to do, raising concerns through official channels first -- including senior NSA management, the Defense Department's inspector general, and Congress. You would like to think that the progress made by the American government with regards to the whistleblower system, since Ellsberg's disclosures, would have never allowed for Drake's allegations to be sat on, and done nothing with. This, unfortunately, is not the case. His concerns were ignored.