WE NEED TO BE FREE TO TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT WRONGDOING
As the revelations from the Panama Papers have slowly disappeared from the front-pages, the identity of the person who blew the whistle remains unknown. Documents they passed to journalists helped shed light on the the dark world of offshore financial transactions by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. And who can blame them for staying anonymous when you look at the challenges facing people who try to tell the truth about international wrongdoing.
When Chelsea Manning leaked US military documents in 2010, she paid the price. Branded a “Maximum Custody Detainee” she was sentenced to 35 years in a supermax prison. Manning had access to inside knowledge of state inspired cover-ups. She was horrified. Among hundreds of thousands of documents she passed to Wikileaks, there were videos showing unarmed civilians being shot and murdered by US forces during the Iraq war.
In 2013, former CIA employee Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents revealing mass surveillance programs by the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ, among others. Had he not fled to Russia where he claimed asylum, he, like Manning would be facing a life sentence behind bars.
In 2014, Anders Kompass, a senior UN official, blew the whistle on French peacekeeping troops involved in the sexual abuse of children - the rape and sodomy of starving and homeless young boys in the Central African Republic. Initially suspended and threatened with the sack, Kompass was eventually exonerated.
We also rely on whistleblowers to expose corporate malpractice. In the mid 1990s Jeffrey Wigand, former vice president of research and development at Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. (B&W), the USA’s 3rd largest tobacco company, revealed that his former employers had covered up their own research which showed that nicotine was addictive and caused lung cancer. The company did their best to ruin Wigand’s life, branding him a wife-beater, an alcoholic and a pathological liar.
“I never expected death threats against me and my family,” he told a journalist in 2002. “I never expected to find a bullet in my mailbox. I never expected a 500-page dossier that was part of a campaign to ruin me. But guess what? We were successful." His story was made into a film, The Insider, starring Russell Crowe.
The Panama Papers whistleblower, who is referring to themselves as John Doe, paid tribute to those who came before:
“I have watched as one after another, whistleblowers and activists in the United States and Europe have had their lives destroyed by the circumstances they find themselves in after shining a light on obvious wrongdoing…Legitimate whistleblowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution, full stop. Until governments codify legal protections for whistleblowers into law, enforcement agencies will simply have to depend on their own resources or on-going global media coverage for documents.”
The lack of protection for whistleblowers deters many who might come forward and means that many abuses of power remain hidden. But those who expose corruption and wrongdoing and who face potentially ruinous consequences save incalculable numbers of lives.
We need whistleblowers to penetrate and expose the exclusive, secret and often corrupt practices of the rich and powerful. We need laws to protect those who dare to speak out. It should be safe to tell the truth.
BY TARQUIN RAMSAY
CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, exposed the treatment of al Qaeda suspects held in secret prisons. He tells Tarquin Ramsay about the psychological and societal impact of being Surveilled.
By Rohan Ayinde
I wrote a poem for newsPeeks who reached out to me asking if I could write something that begun to piece together some of the inspirational interviews that they had conducted with 9 activists who had been engaged in the struggles of the 60's. I trawled through hours of interview with Kathleen Cleaver, Noam Chomsky, Devon Thomas, Angela Phillips, Erin Pizzey, Peter Tatchell, Red Saunders, Peter Kennard and Sylvia Boyes and sat thinking about what it was they were all saying; where the intersection of the struggles they had been a part of existed, and what my voice could offer to such a rich dialogue.