An Associated Press story about a leaked internal study that accuses the Marine Corps of delays in providing mine-resistant vehicles to its forces in Iraq provides ample reason why good journalism is a social and political must, government whistleblowers ought to be fully protected from retribution, and journalists should not be compelled to identify anonymous sources.
First, the news:
Hundreds of U.S. Marines have been killed or injured by roadside bombs in Iraq because Marine Corps bureaucrats refused an urgent request in 2005 from battlefield commanders for blast-resistant vehicles, an internal military study concludes.
The study claims that battlefield commanders asked for MRAP vehicles to replace Humvees because the latter â€” even with additional armor â€” did not fare well when struck by improvised explosive devices, leading to deaths and injuries of soldiers riding in them. MRAPs â€” 40-ton mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles â€” have “V-shaped hulls that deflect blasts out and away from the vehicles,” says the AP story.
MRAPs were seen by bureaucrats, the study says, as too plodding for the rapid-deployment visions of Marine planners.
The study’s author, Franz J. Gayl, is a former Marine who served in Iraq. He is the science and technology adviser to Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, who heads the Marine Corps’ plans, policies and operations department.
Says Mr. Gayl in the study:
If the mass procurement and fielding of MRAPs had begun in 2005 in response to the known and acknowledged threats at that time, as the [Marine Corps] is doing today, hundreds of deaths and injuries could have been prevented. While the possibility of individual corruption remains undetermined, the existence of corrupted MRAP processes is likely, and worthy of (inspector general) investigation.
Mr. Gayl is a whistleblower. According to the AP:
His stinging indictment of the Marine Corps’ system for fielding gear is not a first. He has been an outspoken advocate for non-lethal weapons, such as a beam gun that stings but doesn’t kill and ”dazzlers” that use a powerful light beam to steer unwelcome vehicles and people from checkpoints and convoys.
The failure to send these alternative weapons to Iraq has led to U.S. casualties and the deaths of Iraqi civilians, Gayl has said.
Gayl filed for whistle-blower protection in May with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. He said he was threatened with disciplinary action after meeting with congressional staff on Capitol Hill. Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., “two critics of delays in sending equipment to Iraq … rebuked the Marine Corps in September for ‘apparent retaliation’ against Gayl,” according to the AP.
Arguments about the number, necessity and preventability of many deaths and injuries to American troops in Iraq have riven the nation since 2003. Those arguments, often bitterly partisan, have been threaded through the current presidential election campaigns. Yet how often have those arguments been built on rhetoric that is devoid of fact?
Mr. Gayl’s leaked internal review and his earlier willingness to point out the malfeasance of government bureaucrats demonstrate why government whistleblowers are needed. If credible ones do not receive protection against punishment for speaking out, readers might not know that many deaths among American service men and women in Iraq could have been prevented.
The AP story contains this line: The study was obtained by the AP from a nongovernment source. Had someone not been willing to provide the AP with a copy of the study, readers â€” citizens and voters â€” might not ever have learned of the delay in providing MRAPs to the troops.
But if news organizations had historically demonstrated a willingness to readily burn anonymous sources rather than fight legal and political compulsion to reveal them, the AP might not have obtained the study. Hence the need for shield laws for journalists who are provided information in confidence. Journalists must be able to protect their sources â€” and the day has arrived when many bloggers need that same protection.
With this information about flawed Marine Corps decision-making, readers â€” citizens and voters â€” can make better social and political decisions, especially in election season.
It’s always easy to tell when the combination of a credible whistleblower, an anonymous source, and a good journalist have been effective. The bureaucrats wheedle and whine.
Maj. Manuel Delarosa, a Marine Corps spokesman, called Gayl’s study ”predecisional staff work” and said it would be inappropriate to comment on it. Delarosa said, ”It would be inaccurate to state that Lt. Gen. Natonski has seen or is even aware of” the study. [emphasis added]