Julian Assange and the Whistleblowers of History

Recent developments in the case of Julian Assange and his trial have propagated the stoked controversy over whistleblowing. Transparency and freedom of speech are valued not only by Assange, but governments and activists around the world. Ecuador granted Assange, the spokesperson and editor-in-chief of whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, asylum foregoing extradition to Sweden in light of pending sexual assault allegations. Ecuador’s decision came after apprehension over a possibly unfair trail in both Sweden and the United States upon extradition. Ecuador’s tradition of providing refuge for those who seek it has, in this case, stirred the pot of their relations with Great Britain and the United States with possible domestic consequences for Ecuador.

Beginning with its founding in 2006, WikiLeaks has published controversial footage, telling documents, and world-reaching diplomatic cables disclosing information that puts into question the state of international security. Avid proponents of freedom of speech, such as Assange and other whistleblowers throughout history, have encountered a great deal of trouble with those they criticize, but not without support for their cause. The war against whistleblowers has hindered past attempts, but there is still a place in the future for free speech and universal accountability.


Below are five top whistleblowers pivotal in the history of international transparency.


1. Roger Casement (1904) – Working as the British Consul in Boma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Casement was given the assignment of investigating human rights abuses in the Congo Free State. The Congo Free State was owned by the private imperialist King Leopold II of Belgium. The Casement Report issued to the British Parliament consisted of harsh evidence uncovering King Leopold’s abuses of the native population and, in 1908, he was stripped of the territory and it was made into a legitimate Belgian Colony. This report proliferated the sympathies and outrage of colonization onto a world-wide scale.


2. Upton Sinclair (1906) – The Jungle, a novel written by American journalist Upton Sinclair, focused on the realities of immigrant workers in the United States. The novel took a deeper look into social conditions and repercussions of the meatpacking industry throughout Chicago. His journalistic efforts exposed corruption, abhorrent working conditions, and societal hindrances holding immigrant workers back from movement between social classes. The novel broke ground nationally garnering support for reforms toward rights of workers and healthier conditions in the food and drug industry.


3. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (1972) – These two reporters for The Washington Post played a pivotal role toward the exposure of President Nixon and his dubious campaigning methods which led to his resignation. Their investigation began in the office of the Democratic National Committee, where burglars were tied to the Committee to Re-elect President Nixon. They uncovered an array of questionable practices and outright crimes executed by the Nixon administration. These findings not only led to the resignation of President Nixon, but the awareness of potential fraud within political parties and campaigning methods.


4. Karen Silkwood (1974) – Silkwood, an employee at Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site, a producer of nuclear fuel, reaped unforeseen, fatal consequences upon her investigation. As a member of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union, she actively worked towards safety at the plant which was working with dangerous plutonium fuels. Her individual research claimed there was lethal exposure to chemicals and unfit working conditions in high-risk environments at her place of work. After testifying to the Atomic Energy Commission and attempting to interview with the New York Times, she was mysteriously found dead on the side of the road. All evidence seemed construed and manipulated, leading to accusations against the Kerr-McGee Corporation. The drastic nature of her death proved how sensitive nuclear technology was and also brought to light the dangers of plutonium and the recurring effects it may cause in the future.


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