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Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:33 pm

Speaking truth about power

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?”

Lt. Col. Davis knows that he has now put himself in the hardest situation ever by bluntly speaking truth about the powers who are 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. 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. 
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