Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Scapegoats, Whistleblowers, and Bystanders

USA Today has an insightful article by Jonathan Turley, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, about what "may be the U.S. military's longest unbroken tradition" -- offering scapegoats from the lower ranks to atone for the sins of their superiors.

The military offers its scapegoats in the antiseptic setting of the courtroom. The same cannot be said about how whistleblowers at national laboratories are treated. AP is currently reporting -- complete with gruesome pictures -- the beating of a whistleblower at the national lab in Los Alamos who was scheduled to testify before Congress soon.

I used to read about incidents like these in history books and shake my head at the corruption of the powerful in previous generations. My generation, however, witnessed the resignation of a President who acted like he was above the law. If even Presidents submit to the rule of law, surely corruption is under control.

Our system of checks and balances seemed to be working fine thirty years ago. Now the old "law and order" crowd and the new "religious values" crowd are working overtime to dismantle what remains of the system of checks and balances that was designed to correct the corrupting influence of power.

When the powerful finish with the whistleblowers and scapegoats they'll start picking on the bystanders. Bystanders think they'll escape the attention of bullies and tyrants, but all they really do is ensure greater abuses at a later time or for another generation.

This entry is crossposted from the Mainstream Baptist blog.


Blogger Bruce Wilson said...

I can only imagine how this sort of tactic - prosecuting scapegoats instead of those superior officiers who are ultimately for more culpable - effects US troop morale.

The message is clear - that the US military command structure will evade all responsibility and punish the least powerful.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


I don't remember any time when it was so obvious that the lower ranks were being scapegoated.

The brass hasn't even got a fig leaf on this one.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Bruce Wilson said...

Bruce - I'm not old enough to recall how prosecutions over various human rights abuses committed by the US military during the Vietnam (such as were carried out) distributed blame.

But, yes - this has been painfully obvious even from afar, and the tendency goes - I'd say - to the top of the command chain.

The complete refusal to take any measure of responsibility for anything at all has been one of the notable characteristics of George W. Bush's Administration.

2:58 PM  

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