October 2013        

Who would be a whistle-blower?


“A whistle-blower you would be,
If you could see the things I see.”

(with apologies to George Formby)

     In fact one would have to be either a very brave or a very foolhardy person to be a whistle-blower, considering the punishments that have been meted out to such people over history. In recent times there have been the cases of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange. Our own Roger Casement could be considered an example from a previous era. These people suffered considerably for taking their stance, and in Casement’s case he paid the ultimate price.
     One of the principles laid down at the Nürnberg trials of Nazis after the Second World War was: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to orders of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
     Another Nürnberg principle states that “complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity is a crime under international law.” There is also a legal obligation under international law to report war crimes.
     Through Wikileaks, Manning was responsible for exposing, among other things, the infamous video of the US helicopter gunning down unarmed civilians in Iraq and then firing at a van that tried to help transport the injured to hospital. For anybody who has seen this video it was obviously a war crime. It was also a war crime committed during an illegal war. Manning, therefore, had a legal obligation to make the details known.
     Similar reasons apply to the actions of Assange and Snowden.
     With all the major media around the world in the control of a small number of powerful transnational corporations, there has never been a time when opposition views and reports were more needed, so that citizens can make informed decisions. In the present circumstances, with their reporters and columnists “embedded” within the system, none of the information disclosed by the aforementioned whistle-blowers was likely to see the light of day.
     One of the necessities for a properly functioning democracy is openness and transparency. “Democracy,” however, must be one of the most abused words in the dictionary. For the right it has come to mean government by people that they approve of; but for all who believe in “real” democracy, whistle-blowers would hold an honoured position. It could also be argued that, in a properly functioning democracy, there would be no need for whistle-blowers.
     Now we have the situation where people who are doing what is legally required of them are ending up with long terms in prison or having to go on the run for doing their duty. Apart from their legal obligations, there are, of course, their moral duties; but, to quote Noam Chomsky, “there’s no more morality in world affairs, fundamentally, than there was at the time of Genghis Khan; there are just different factors to be concerned with.”
[RCN]

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