New Internationalist

Whistle Blowers

Issue 289

Whistle blowers
Brave people who are paying a high personal price for speaking out.

The Nurse
Stacie Neldaughter
US nurse Stacie Neldaughter was fired from her job at St Mary’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, after she tried to protect the rights of patients being considered for electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). This controversial treatment is mainly used in psychiatry to relieve severe depression but has also been used to control behaviour. Since ECT can produce permanent brain damage – particularly long-term memory loss – patients have to be given sufficient information to make an informed choice as to whether they are prepared to undergo the treatment. The Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy found deficiencies in St Mary’s policies and procedures for obtaining informed consent, the patients at greatest risk being elderly women. Investigations revealed that hospital staff coerced patients, ignored their refusals and tried to get family or court orders as a substitute for patient consent for the treatment. Following the publication of a report on St Mary’s Hospital, policies for informed consent for ECT have been revised and there have been no further complaints. But Stacie Neldaughter has not been given her job back.

Mordechai Vanunu
I McKNIGHT /
CAMERA PRESS

The Nuclear Technician
Mordechai Vanunu
In 1986 Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli nuclear technician, gave information and photographs to the Sunday Times in London to alert the world about the dangers of Israel’s extensive nuclear arsenal. He was abducted by Mossad, Israel’s Secret Service, convicted of treason and espionage in a secret trial and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Since then he has been held in solitary confinement under harsh conditions amounting to torture. Apart from his lawyer, only immediate members of his family are allowed to see him, once a month, in the presence of an agent. In 1996 he went on hunger strike after losing his appeal against solitary confinement. As Vanunu is not prepared to remain silent he is unlikely to be released in the near future. In his defence Vanunu says: ‘I’m not a traitor. I’m a man with a conscience who did what he did out of a deep belief after much thought and many doubts.’

Christopher Boyce The Spy
Christopher Boyce
Christopher Boyce was involved in deciphering top-secret messages from the CIA Pine Gap spy-satellite base near Alice Springs, Australia. During the briefing for his job Boyce was told that although the US had signed an Executive Agreement with Australia to share information from Pine Gap, the agreement was not being honoured and ‘certain information’ was to be concealed from Australia. In 1977 Boyce passed secrets to a friend who sold them to the Russians, naming Boyce as the source. Boyce was duly charged with spying for the Russians. During his trial he disclosed the involvement of the CIA in bringing down the Whitlam Labour Government, which was perceived as a threat to the impending renewal of the US lease and operations at Pine Gap. He also disclosed how the CIA had infiltrated the leadership of the Australian trade unions. The prosecuting lawyers did not refute these allegations but attempts by Boyce to make further allegations under oath about the CIA involvement in Australia were blocked. He was sent for psychiatric evaluation and there were indications that he might receive lenient treatment. But he made it clear he was so outraged by the US treatment of Australia that he was determined to speak out. He was sentenced to 40 years in the Marion Penitentiary in Illinois, where he is being kept in solitary confinement.

Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam has commented: ‘I believe the evidence is so grave in its detail and so alarming in its implications that it demands the fullest explanation. The deception over the CIA and the activities of foreign installations on our soil all affect Australia’s independence.’

The Finance Manager
Peter Smith
In November 1991 Peter Smith joined a British-based financial-services company called Colonial Mutual as a branch manager. Three years later he was made redundant after raising concems about risks to investors. Colonial Mutual, which sells insurance, pensions and saving plans, has a record of malpractrice. The company was prosecuted in 1992 in Australia for misleading insurance sales to Queensland Aboriginal Communities, and was fined in 1993 in Britain for serious misconduct. Smith and other whistleblowing colleagues drew attention to the continuing failure of the company to train its sales staff in line with rules intended to protect the public. They claimed that clients were being given advice by salespeople who were not competent to offer it. Meanwhile the Personal Investment Authority, which is supposed to work as a watchdog organization, has failed to follow up numerous complaints about the company.

ADVICE
If you are thinking of blowing the whistle here are three basic tips:

1 Whistleblowing must be based on evidence
2 It is much more effective to act as a co-ordinated group than to act individually
3 The focus should be a co-ordinated campaign to bring about necessary changes

For more information contact:
Freedom to Care, an ethics-at-work organization, which gives support, counselling and advice to whistleblowers.
Their address is PO Box 125, West Molesey, Surrey KT8 1YE, England.
Tel: +44 (181) 224 1022.
E-mail 101523.2644@compuserve.com

Compiled by Mary Brenan

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