Monday, September 3, 2007

The Bush Administration Destroys Whistle-Blowers

Protect whistle-blowers
Contra Costa Times

AMONG THE MOST PERSISTENT reports to come out of Iraq during our four-year presence are those pointing out corruption among American and Iraqi authorities. According to the draft of a report prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, for instance, the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is "not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anti-corruption laws.''

Unfortunately, our own ability to curb corruption isn't much better. There have been numerous reports about such problems as 190,000 unaccounted-for weapons and our failure to aid Iraqis who have helped our country conduct the war. But we're also abandoning American citizens and government employees who blow the whistle on the waste and corruption that has cost us billions of dollars.

To wit: $8.8 billion of $30 billion Congress approved to rebuild Iraq can't be accounted for, says a government reconstruction audit. Also, an Associated Press review of attempts to report how funds may have been misused found that they have resulted in personal and professional disaster for people who have tried to blow the whistle on such shenanigans.

Whistle-blowers who stood up to corruption within government and among private contractors have been fired, demoted, shunned and denied government support. This is so much the case that William Weaver, senior adviser to the National Security Whistleblowers Association and a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, tells potential whistle-blowers, "If you do it, you'll be destroyed.''

"Sometimes people ask me, 'Should I do this?' And my answer is no,'' said Weaver. "If they're married, they'll lose family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything.''

It's a Catch-22. Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit organization that tries to trace corruption, notes that the only way to find out about many rip-offs is for someone to report it. "But when they do, the weight of the government comes down on them. The message is, 'Don't blow the whistle or we'll make your life hell.'"

Thus, Bunnatine Greenhouse, once a top civilian contracting officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, found herself demoted and shoved into a dead-end job after she told a congressional committee about fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was held for 97 days and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques in an American military prison near Baghdad after reporting that a security company he worked for ran an illicit "Wal-Mart for guns.''

Robert Isakson and William Baldwin won a $10 million whistle-blower suit alleging that Custer Battles had filed fake invoices and padded its bills, only to see it overturned because a judge said they failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government.

Our government hasn't joined any whistle-blower lawsuits about Iraq corruption, and none has gone to trial since. Yet nearly one-third of the money allocated for reconstruction in Iraq has disappeared.

Whistle-blowers aren't always right, but they've historically been sources of important information about government corruption. That's why there have been extensive efforts to protect them and their rights.

It's been noted repeatedly that the war in Iraq and extensive use of private contractors has created a breeding ground for wrongdoing. Billions of public dollars have been squandered, and few people are being held accountable. That's an injustice and abuse of the public trust.

Government also fails its citizens if it doesn't accept, investigate and prosecute illegal activities, especially when allegations of inappropriate behavior come from people in positions to know.

Whistle-blowers need an avenue in which they can safely make their allegations with assurances that such claims will be examined objectively and that they will not be punished for bringing them up.

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