Military Whistleblowers

This weekend, the Secretary of the Navy gave up his job after a dispute with President Donald Trump over plans to penalize a Navy SEAL charged with war crimes.

New York Times reporter Dave Philipps, who wrote about the case in April, noted “The biggest story in a war crimes case isn’t always the crime itself. Sometimes what the crime reveals about the culture and inner workings of a military unit is the real headline.”

That was what he thought when he learned that Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, the head of a Navy SEAL platoon, was charged with murdering civilians in Iraq. War crimes are easy to cover up, he wrote in a Times Insider column, where reporters share how they got the story.

So why had a popular chief who was almost eligible for retirement been turned in by several men in his own platoon for stabbing a captive teenager to death and gunning down civilians, including a young girl, with a sniper rifle?”

Philipps made a lot of calls but no one in the platoon would talk to him. Then, someone gave him more than 400 pages of confidential documents from the Navy’s criminal investigation. The headline on this story: Navy SEALS Were Warned Against Reporting Their Chief For War Crimes. 


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A selection of this week’s whistleblower news, including a harrowing tale of a group of war crimes whistleblowers.
NAVY

Some of details of the case against Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, as reported in The New York Times Tuesday, may sound familiar to many whistleblowers.  Here’s what reportedly occurred when Navy SEAL commandos reported their platoon chief had committed atrocities in Iraq.

(I)nstead of launching an investigation that day, the troop commander … warned the seven platoon members that speaking out could cost them and others their careers, according to the report.

 The Times story is based on a confidential Navy criminal investigation report obtained by the paper.

According to the investigation report, the troop commander, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, said in the meeting that while the SEALs were free to report the killings, the Navy might not look kindly on rank-and-file team members making allegations against a chief. Their careers could be sidetracked, he said, and their elite status revoked; referring to the eagle-and-trident badges worn by SEALs, he said the Navy “will pull your birds.”


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4/23 update:The LA Times has dug into the California Air National Guard scandal.

Allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers in the California National Guard are more widespread than the complaints made at a Fresno air base that led to a dramatic leadership shakeup of the organization earlier this month, The Times has found.

The paper’s reporters found workers allege retaliation against whistleblowers and a failure of the Guard’s to protect them.

“When a person blows the whistle on wrongdoing, they face almost a guarantee of retaliation,” said Dwight Stirling, a reserve judge advocate who heads the Center for Law and Military Policy and alleges he was targeted for investigation after he reported possible misconduct five years ago. “It’s meant, as in all cases of retaliation, to send a message that if you hold the managers to account, if you bring to light their misconduct, that they’re going to make you pay for it.”

From 4/15: After Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pineda of the California Air National Guard reported finding her boots full of urine, she felt the investigation had turned into a cover-up.

From the LA Times on this military whistleblower case: 

In August 2015, Pineda filed a whistle-blower complaint. She wrote that the main investigator told her that the evidence showed that a woman could not have urinated in the boots, but that she heard that officers speculated that she urinated in them “for attention.” In the complaint, Pineda said that “makes me want this investigation to be complete and legit to prove that I did not do this to myself.” She added that she feared she could be forced to leave the guard.


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The Department of Defense Inspector General (DOD IG) should coordinate with the military services to do a better job of protecting whistleblower confidentiality and addressing delays in handling cases, according to a new report.

The Government Accountability Office report found the IG offices have made progress since past reviews, but needs to do more to protect confidentiality. The review found that employees without “the need to know” have had access to sensitive whistleblower information.

While the timeliness of handling cases has improved in some areas, delays persist in others, according to the report. For example, the average number of days to complete military and contractor reprisal investigations increased between 2017 and 2018 from 394 days to 541 days.

The DOD IG completed closed 73 investigations in 2018, including 13 senior official misconduct cases and 60 military, contractor, and civilian reprisal cases. However, about 85 percent of all investigations “did not meet the timeliness goals.”


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U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) today introduced the Legal Justice for Servicemembers Act. This legislation would strengthen the protections for military whistleblowers and ensure that servicemembers receive the justice they deserve.

The legislation would ensure that claims of retaliation are fairly and thoroughly investigated by allowing servicemembers to decline investigation of their retaliation claim by a Service IG in favor of a higher-level review by the DODIG and requiring the DODIG to develop standardized training and investigation
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This morning, the AP released a story detailing the failure of the Department of Defense Inspector General’s (DoD IG) office to perform it’s two essential functions: (a) protect military whistleblowers and (b)investigate their claims. As one whistleblower in the story says: "They are supposed to serve as the conscience of the Department of Defense. And they’re not." The