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Speaking Truth About Power

(Photo: The U.S. Army / Flickr) A willingness to speak truth to power is an essential civic virtue for the well-being of a democratic-republic. Equally virtuous and essential

A willingness to speak truth to power is an essential civic virtue for the well-being of a democratic-republic. Equally virtuous and essential, however, are those rare citizens willing to risk their personal well-being by standing up to speak truth about power.

Meet Lt. Col. Danny Davis, a 48-year-old career Army man who fought in both the first and second Iraq wars and has had two year-long deployments in the Afghanistan war. Over the years, this soldier had often seen top commanders try to put a positive light on a negative military situation, but in our ongoing quagmire in Afghanistan, Davis saw that the candor gap had become a chasm, with the brass going from spin to outright lies.

So, this time, he wasn’t going to be quiet about it. Davis became a whistleblower, daring even to call out Gen. David Petraeus, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who now heads the CIA. Last year, Petraeus had told Congress that the Afghan Taliban’s momentum had been “arrested,” that our progress there was “significant,” and that the mission was “on the right azimuth,” to succeed.

That went against everything Davis himself was experiencing, what he was being told by ground forces throughout Afghanistan, what classified intelligence assessments were revealing, and — most significantly — what casualty statistics were showing. “You can’t spin the fact that more men are getting blown up every year,” he says.

Now back in the U.S., Davis launched a truth-telling mission in January, going to the media and Congress — and, in a scathing article in The Armed Forces Journal, he asked point blank, “How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?”

Davis is no hothead — his superiors have given him such glowing performance evaluations as this: “His maturity, tenacity and judgment can be counted on in even the hardest of situations.” Lt. Col. Davis knows that he has now put himself in the hardest situation ever by bluntly speaking truth about the powers who’re many ranks above him. “I’m going to get nuked,” he says resignedly.

Indeed, a teacher of military ethics at the Naval War College has already denigrated Davis as an underling who thinks that he “knows better” than the brass. “It may be an act of moral courage,” sniffed the ethicist, “but he’s gone outside channels, and he’s taking his chances on what happens to him.”

Yes, he is, professor, and America needs more truth-telling whistleblowers like Davis with the moral courage to go confront leaders with their lies.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Obama administration is making it harder for federal workers to serve the public by blowing the whistle on wrongdoing. In progressive circles, the most common complaint about Barack Obama’s presidency is that it doesn’t go far enough, instead being content with half-step reforms. On one important issue, however, the Obamacans have been going way too far.

With an executive excess that would’ve given pause even to the Bush-Cheney regime, the White House and Justice Department have been trying to silence truth-tellers who dare to reveal government misdeeds to journalists. Every president hates leaks, but this one is hauling public-spirited leakers into federal court, vengefully accusing them of being spies!

His bludgeon is a 1917 Espionage Act that was intended to apply only to people who give aid to our enemies by revealing national security secrets. In its nearly 100 years on the books, the act had been used only three times — but Obama has already brought out this sledgehammer six times in only three years, wielding it to prosecute simple whistleblowers.

Thomas Drake was one of them. His “crime” was telling a Baltimore Sun reporter that the agency he worked for was paying hundreds of millions of dollars to a corporate contractor for a software program, rather than installing a much cheaper, more effective, and less problematical program developed by the agency itself. Even though his claim was true, Drake was prosecuted under the Espionage Act, charged with 10 felonies carrying punishments of up to 35 years in prison. His expose was not at all a matter of national security — merely a matter of political embarrassment to the administration. It was such overkill that the Justice Department’s case collapsed from its own absurdity, but not before putting Drake through a wringer and sending a chill through other legitimate whistleblowers.

To learn more about Obama’s bizarre, heavy-handed attacks on truth-tellers, contact the Government Accountability Project:

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