Four patriots told their inspiring stories of civic service at an unusually compelling awards ceremony April 25 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The ninth annual Ridenhour Prizes went to four who are “fostering the spirit of courage and truth,” plus film-makers for “Semper Fi: Always Faithful.”
Each speaker focused on a topic so important that it would be arbitrary to emphasize one over another. Better to list them in order of presentation and to recommend that readers see them on video. A free version of the 90-minute ceremony is posted on the Ridenhour site here. The awards are named for the late Ron Ridenhour, the Vietnam veteran who in 1969 revealed the My Lai Massacre by United States forces.
Each of this week's stories was a passionate, courageous call for justice.
The first awardee was Eileen Foster, right. She exposed systemic fraud at the nation’s largest mortgage provider, Countrywide Financial. An executive vice president at the company, she went first to management and then to the public to describe how its loan practices caused vast harm. In the award citation for “Truth-Telling,” the judges said, “Her actions go a long way in exposing the fact that fraud on the part of commission-hungry loan officers — not borrowers lying on their loan applications — fueled the increase in toxic mortgages, which in large part gave rise to the 2008 economic crash.” [Read more.]
Co-winner of the prize was Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, left, honored “for bravely speaking out against senior military leadership and their deceptive portrayal of the war in Afghanistan.” In his acceptance remarks, he said that honesty is -- and should remain -- a fundamental requirement in the military. “To date,” the judges said, “he is the only active duty serviceperson to have detailed the gross discrepancies between the reality on the ground in Afghanistan and the message of progress that is communicated to the US Congress and the American people.“ [Read more.]
His citation read:
It was during Davis's second, year-long deployment, from November 2010 to October 2011, that the seventeen-year army veteran came to the realization that the United States was not achieving the success in Afghanistan that American military leaders had long maintained. As the senior representative of the Army's Rapid Equipping Force, he was charged, in his own words, with "assessing identified material shortfalls and connecting the troops with the equipment they needed to fulfill their mission." Davis's job meant that he had to travel extensively throughout the country, speaking with troops, Afghan villagers, village elders, and security officials. Everywhere he heard the same story: unofficial alliances between Afghan security forces and the insurgency; the incapability of the Afghan government to provide services for their people; and the near impossibility of pacifying the provinces.
His observations contrasted dramatically with the story that was being told to the American people. In March 2011, for example, General David H. Petraeus, then commander of troops in Afghanistan, testified before the Senate that that the Taliban's momentum had been "arrested in much of the country" and that progress was "significant."
Upon return home in January 2012, Davis wrote two reports, one classified — which he submitted to members of Congress — and the other unclassified. The 86-page unclassified report, available online, opened with the following statement:
Senior ranking U.S. military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the U.S. Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable. This deception has damaged America's credibility among both our allies and enemies, severely limiting our ability to reach a political solution to the war in Afghanistan.
Next up was the team that produced Semper Fi, producer and director Rachel Libert and cinematographer Tony Hardmon. The documentary is “the chronicle of one determined Marine, Master Sgt. Jerry
Ensminger, whose quest to understand the reasons for his daughter’s early death pitted him against the organization to which he had pledged to be semper fidelis, or “always faithful.” He introduced the film-makers. The citation continued:
Ensminger’s twenty-five-year devotion to the Marine Corps was disrupted when his nine-year-old daughter died of a rare form of leukemia. In his quest for answers, he exposed a cover-up by the Marine Corps of one of the largest water contamination incidents in US history. The water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where Master Sgt. Ensminger lived with his family while his wife was pregnant with his daughter, had been contaminated with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals for thirty years.
It is estimated that as many as one million Marines and their families may have been exposed to this contaminated water. The Marine Corps were made aware of the contamination in 1980, but refused to officially notify the residents of the base until 2008, after Ensminger’s campaign brought national attention to the issue. [Read more.]
The Book Prize recipient was Ali H. Soufan, below, who authored The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda. Soufan, an FBI agent based in New York City during 9/11 working on counter-intelligence. The citation read, “he has written the definitive history of al-Qaeda, and provides irrefutable evidence that torture is not only antithetical to American values, but produces false and dangerous information.” It continued:
Alongside vivid descriptions of field operations on both the frontlines and in the interrogation rooms, Soufan also reveals, in painful detail, the intelligence sharing failures of the US government.…Soufan retired from the FBI in 2005, disillusioned by how the war against al-Qaeda was being handled….
“It’s important to not allow the torture issue to harm the reputation, and thus the effectiveness, of the C.I.A,” wrote Soufan. “The agency is essential to our national security. We must ensure that the mistakes behind the use of these techniques are never repeated.” [Read more.]
The Courage Prize went to George Congressman John L. Lewis (D), an eloquent pioneer of the civil rights movement beginning in the 1950s. The citation said, “Often called ‘one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,’ John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls "The Beloved Community" in America. His dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral principles has won him the admiration of many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress. It continued:
Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks, and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. After leaving SNCC in 1966, he continued his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement as Associate Director of the Field Foundation and his participation in the Southern Regional Council's voter registration programs. Lewis went on to become the Director of the Voter Education Project (VEP). Under his leadership, the VEP transformed the nation's political climate by adding nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls. In 1977, John Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency. [Read more.]
Retired newspaper publisher John Siegenthaler, an aide to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, during the era, introduced Lewis by describing the dangers for Lewis faced in a struggle almost unimaginable now. Siegenthaler, now nearly 85 and himself hit on the head with a pipe while monitoring one 1960s demonstration, was among the speakers providing perspective throughout the program. Others included leaders of the founding partners of the awards program, Randy Fertel of the Fertel Foundation and Nations Institute President Andrew Breslau, and Master of Ceremonies Danielle Brian, left, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). .
Any readers so moved who might want to help defray the award-lunch's cost may donate here to the organizers. Readers at our Justice Integrity Project site here know that we rarely suggest donations anywhere, even to our own work. But this awards effort is especially cost-effective for important goals and otherwise worthy of support. That is especially so in view of our most recent column, BP, CIA, Edwards Cases Raise Selective Prosecution Questions, reporting on breakdowns in law enforcement fairness.
Some of the most stirring words from the Ridenhour program came from the Afghanistan veteran Davis, who said, "I have a moral obligation to stand up for the truth, no matter what the consequences." He said he has sometimes heard others advise that rosy predictions and other lies are a part of successful careers. "That's got to stop, right now," he said. "It's no longer acceptable for the truth to be negotiable." He told his listeners to think of some way to share such positive messages, "You can't just be in the audience."
Related News Coverage
Andy Breslau, Nation's Institute President and Co-Sponsor of the Ridenhour Prizes
We have put up some photographs of the ninth annual Ridenhour Prizes, which you can see by clicking here. We also have videos of the introducers' and winners' speeches, which are available on the individual winner pages: Rep. John Lewis, Eileen Foster, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, Ali H. Soufan and the film, Semper Fi: Always Faithful. Please feel free to share them on Facebook or Twitter, or to email them to your friends. Lastly, if you didn't have a chance to make a contribution to The Ridenhour Prizes and wish to donate now, you can do so online or by sending a check — just click here for instructions.
Huffington Post, Eileen Foster, Former Countrywide Executive, Calls For Investigation Into Cover-Ups, April 25, 2012. A whistleblower who exposed systemic fraud by Countrywide mortgage lenders called on the Department of Justice on Wednesday to prosecute her former colleagues, if not with fraud, then with covering it up. "If there is insufficient legal evidence to convict these executives of what we believe are obvious crimes, then the federal government should refocus," Eileen Foster, right, a former Countrywide fraud investigations chief, told an audience at the National Press Club gathered to honor her and five others for their truth-telling. "Overwhelming evidence of perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice exist in the numerous claims, court filings and trial and investigative transcripts," Foster said. She herself was fired after reporting that falsified income documentation and faked signatures had been used to steer borrowers into bad mortgages. Countrywide and all its mortgages were bought by Bank of America in 2008. Foster said Countrywide's "rogue culture ... was welcomed, instead of rejected by Bank of America." Bank of America told iWatch News last year that it takes "appropriate actions" when it uncovers fraud, including cooperating with law-enforcement. Bank of America was one of five banks that agreed to a $25 billion settlement with the U.S. government in February to resolve civil charges related to mortgage fraud.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, responding to Foster's earlier call for prosecuting loan executives for fraud, told CBS News in December that he found "the excessive risk taking to be offensive" and "the greed that was manifested by certain people to be very upsetting." But, he said, "that in and of itself doesn't mean we bring a criminal case." In an interview with Rolling Stone published Wednesday, President Barack Obama was asked why nobody is on trial for the financial frauds that triggered the global economic crisis. "[I]n some cases, really irresponsible practices that hurt a lot of people might not have been technically against the law," Obama said. "They might have been the wrong thing to do, but prosecutors are required to actually build cases based on what the law is." He added however that he thinks "there's still possibilities of criminal prosecutions."
Catching Our Attention
National Press Club, NPC's own 'Mr. Baseball' Paul Dickson hits home run at Book Rap, Joseph Luchok, April 25, 2012. National Press Club member Paul Dickson spoke about his new book, Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, to a very appreciative audience at the Press Club on April 24. Like Veeck, he is doing everything he can with his clothes on to sell the book, Dickson said. This is Dickson's first biography and writing it was very different from other types of books because getting too far into the person can destroy the person, he said. Veeck is a fascinating person and Dickson had to deconstruct him to write about him, he added. Veeck was a master of innovation and a fountain of ideas, some of which worked and some of which failed, Dickson said. Although best known for promotions like giving away livestock, Disco Demolition Night, or having a nylon giveaway night right after World War I, when nylons were scarce, Veeck also made lasting impact on baseball. Veeck integrated the American League when he signed Larry Doby. He was asked by the National League to prepare the West Coast for baseball. His work was a key element enabling the National League to place teams in Los Angeles and San Francisco before the American League could get teams to the coast.
Poynter Institute, Miner: Journatic offered to pay employees not to talk to reporters, Andrew Beaujon, April 24, 2012. On Monday the Chicago Tribune announced it would soon work with Journatic, a local “media content provider,” to produce its TribLocal network. Michael Miner looks into how Journatic pays writers ($4 for stories that take about 20 minutes to write, $2 for stories that should take around 10 minutes) and quotes an email from Journatic Executive Editor Peter Behle that offers an even better way for Journatic employees to get paid: “Reporters will be sniffing around—and they are not authorized to talk with anyone about Journatic under any circumstances. Better yet, if you receive a reporter inquiry and tell us about it (without responding), we’ll pay you a $50 bonus.” Journatic estimates the average hourly rate it pays its writers to be $12/hour. Narcing out a media reporter pays better than four hours of work.
Chicago Reader, Tribune Company does deal with Journatic, Michael Miner, April 24, 2012. The Tribune Company announced Monday it's turning over TribLocal to Journatic—which the Tribune describes as a "Chicago-based media content provider" that "aggregates data." Not just Chicago-based, it's Tribune Tower-based, and Journatic's approach to journalism is to turn it into piecework done at home.
ABA Journal, Cyberattacks: Computer Warfare Looms as Next Big Conflict in International Law, Richard Brust, May 1, 2012. Ccyberwar nevertheless carries familiar lessons. And, as with earlier developments of powerful and unimagined weaponry, experts are debating how best to master digital domination and defense, and how to make cyberwar accord with international law. One debate focuses on whether the U.S. should learn the practicalities of winning a cyberwar—and then ask lawyers for their input—or, instead, set the legal ground rules before conducting cyberwarfare. The debate is among several featured in the upcoming book Patriots Debate: Contemporary Issues in National Security Law, sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security. The book, featuring essays from experts in various fields of national security, is expected to be published this spring.