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Protecting whistle-blowers

A Times Editorial
Published February 20, 2006


The Bush administration has long showed less concern for allegations it broke the law than for finding those who blew the whistle on everything from domestic spying to Abu Ghraib. That's why it is good a growing chorus of congressional Republicans and Democrats is rising to defend those who expose abuses committed in the name of our government. Americans deserve to know what their leaders are doing and Congress needs to know what policies work.

Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., said hearings last week underscored his fears that whistle-blowers were being singled out for retribution. He and others in Congress have shed light on the treatment of government workers and military officers who have spoken out against a range of practices, from the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq to the faults with intelligence-gathering efforts. "It's absolutely essential," Shays told the New York Times , "that we have a system that allows people to speak out about abuses, especially in the national security realm."

Shays' concerns, which echo across the partisan divide, are heightened by a Bush White House obsessed with secrecy. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and CIA director Porter Goss have worked to discourage the public debate by calling for tougher punishment of leakers. Imagine how much damage the United States could have spared itself in the Muslim world had superiors at the Department of Defense stopped the physical and sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib before it exploded on the global stage?

Shays made an important point at Tuesday's hearing, reminding federal employees that they are "ethically bound" to expose crime, corruption and abuse. At the same time, whistle-blowers in sensitive positions risk what one witness called the "scarlet T" - the tag as a traitor that could cause one to lose security clearance, or one's career. One witness after another made the same appeal: Congress must do more to exercise oversight over the national security practices of the executive branch. Better protecting whistle-blowers would be a start. Americans deserve to know how well the government performs its many crucial jobs, from patrolling the border to protecting the nation's drinking water supply. If the truth comes only from courageous insiders, they at least should not be punished for it.