Sunday Read: Military Whistleblowers
This overview of military whistleblowers’ role in whistleblower rights was sent as part of NWC’s Sunday Read series that aims to educate supporters about specific whistleblower legislative or policy initiatives. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.
May 30th is Memorial Day, the federal holiday honoring United States military personnel who died serving our country. This holiday was first widely observed in 1868 to respect the soldiers who fought in the Civil War, since then the last Monday in the month of May has been reserved for the remembrance of those fell in the line of duty since 1971.
Honoring those who have given their lives for this country, this Sunday Read will discuss the history of the whistleblowing in America and share how essential military whistleblowers have been to whistleblower protections for all.
The First Whistleblowers were Sailors
On February 19th, 1777, the first American whistleblower effort was born. A group of 10 sailors met abord the warship Warren to discuss their concerns about the incompetence and abuse of British prisoners by the commander in chief of the Continental Navy. Commodore Hopkins was well-connected as the highest ranked officer in the Navy and brother to then Governor of Rhode Island.
The sailors petitioned the Continental Congress to express their concerns about their commander, signing personal affidavits alongside their petition. They were motivated by concern for the integrity of the Navy above all else, and these brave Americans risked their careers in the name of the American dream.
On March 26th, the Marine Committee finished its investigation and presented its findings to the Continental Congress, resulting in the suspension of the commodore. The commodore was later removed from the United States Navy on January 2nd of the next year.
Unfortunately, their story does not end there. Hopkins sought revenge against the sailors after he learned about their personal disclosures. Fully using his expiring power, Hopkins attempted to force the sailors to change their testimonies to the Continental Congress. When he learned the name of one of the sailors: Lieutenant Marvin. Hopkins had Marvin arrested and court martialed for submitting “scurrilous papers” against him. In other words, Hopkins accused Marvin of defamation asserting that the mistreatment of British soldiers which he and the other sailors reveals was all a lie. When Marvin was found “guilty” he was immediately fired from his position.
Subsequently, Hopkins filed a lawsuit against the 10 sailors in the state of Rhode Island for conspiracy and criminal libel. Only Marvin and midshipman Samuel Shaw were served with the complaint, given its jurisdiction. These courageous whistleblowers were arrested and held in jail, a purely retaliatory measure designed to cripple the sailors financially, socially, and professionally.
Marvin and Shaw’s only choice was to petition to the Continental Congress, which came to their defense 22 days after their submission on July 30th, 1778. The decision by the special committee publicly encouraged all citizens to blow the whistle on wrongdoing against those in positions of power by showing government support for military whistleblowers. The names Marvin and Shaw are historically connected with whistleblowing, in a large part thanks to research conducted by contemporary whistleblower attorney Stephen M. Kohn and NWC’s annual celebration of National Whistleblower Day — which always includes the retelling of this first whistleblower victory.
July 30th, 1778, marks the important decision that sparked the annual celebration of whistleblowers in the United States. National Whistleblower Day serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting whistleblowers. The actions of these brave individuals almost 250 years ago serve as the foundation for modern whistleblower recognition and protections. NWC is honored to recognize their work and build upon their sentiments, advocating for whistleblowers in a variety of sectors.
Military Whistleblowers are Protected
Supporting the growing culture of transparency and accountability, Congress passed the Military Whistleblowers Protection Act of 1988 (MWPA). This legislation made it illegal for the armed forces to retaliate against military personnel for communicating with members of Congress or an Inspector General.
Developments in whistleblower protections led to the Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2013, allowing whistleblowers claims to be made within one year instead of an abnormally small 60-day period. Most notably, protected communications were expanded to include issues concerning any violation of law, specifically including those prohibiting rape, sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Whistleblowers are placed in difficult situations every day and military whistleblowers are no exception. Loyalty is a very important concept in the military, the foundation of trust and confidence in fellow soldiers and those in command. When people in the military observe or learn about misconduct, it can be very difficult to abandon these notions. An extra element to consider in disrupting the status quo, military whistleblowers experience many “invisible” pressures.
It is important to recognize that military whistleblowers experience additional challenges when choosing to make their claims and the dedication that these whistleblowers have for serving American citizens.
There are many military whistleblowers in America, some of which you can learn more about on our website:
· Daniel P. Meyer: A three-time whistleblower and naval veteran of the Persian Gulf war, Meyer exposed misconduct in the investigation of an explosion onboard the battleship IOWA. Meyer has also exposed issues in environmental compliance and was previously the Executive Director for Intelligence Community Whistleblowing & Source Protection.
· Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld: Awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, and two Joint Meritorious Unit Awards, former Lt. Col. Vandeveld resigned from his post at Guantanamo Bay and exposed serious human rights violations. Instead of accepting the just criticism of the program, the Army chose to retaliate against Lt. Col. Vandeveld.
· Lieutenant Commander Kimberly Young-McLear, Ph.D.: Using the protections in the enhanced MWPA, Dr. Young-McLear exposed issues with the Coast Guard’s handling of bullying, harassment, and discrimination cases. Her testimony secured protections for military and other federal employees.
National Whistleblower Day 2022
Marking the 244th celebration of National Whistleblower Day, NWC has developed three days of events to commemorate whistleblowers around the world. From July 28th through July 30th, NWC is hosting a series of speeches from whistleblowers and policymakers as well as panels with whistleblower attorneys about current whistleblower issues. The event will be conducted live and entirely virtually.
Are you a Military Whistleblower? Please use the button below to register to be recognized on National Whistleblower Day!
Register today to celebrate the importance of whistleblowers and hear from whistleblowers themselves about the importance of protections and support for whistleblowers.
Thank you for reading this edition of the Sunday Read series. Please subscribe to our newsletter to learn more about whistleblower issues around the world and donate to support National Whistleblower Day and NWC’s continued advocacy for whistleblowers.
This story was researched and drafted by NWC Intern, Shawn Robbins, a Sophomore double major in Economics and Sociology at University of California, Irvine.