Colluding with Madness
There are times in a persons life when difficult decisions have to be made - often in a moment. The consequences either way can be devastating. For instance, there is a momentum gathering about a deeply shaming episode from the Iraq invasion. More and more stones are being turned over and the scale of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners continues to grow. The MOD and the Army stand accused at best of being ignorant of what some troops were getting up to - and therefore incompetent. At worst, willfully blind eyes were turned and warnings ignored all the way to the top of Government. This means you, Blair, Hoon and Straw. The mistreatment of prisoners is in breach of the Geneva Convention and the Human Rights Act. Not difficult to comprehend.
Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer was the army’s chief legal adviser in Iraq. His warnings about the way prisoners were being treated were not only ignored, he was warned that he would be reported to the Law Society by his then boss. Shortly afterwards he was ‘sent into the wilderness.’
Whistleblowers from the NHS would recognise this situation as they too are frequently blamed as being ‘not one of us’ and therefore the problem. Patients lives are secondary to the culture. Warning about unsafe practices or dangerous doctors puts the person doing the warning in danger of losing their job. Or they are bought off with a large payment and a ‘confidentiality agreement.’ A most unsatisfactory way to run a public service.
Iraqi prisoners were not protected and the ethical ambivalence at the top of the MOD/Government meant troops operated in a moral vacuum. Now the reckoning has begun and all those who sat on their hands and kept their mouths shut are busily engaged in an arse covering exercise.
Whether it is Baha Moussa or Stafford General the process is similar. Bad Practice, Collusion, Cover up, Report and....... Lessons Learned. Oh Yeah. Whistleblowers or warners are ostracised or sacked. Those who establish the culture emerge unscathed and unaccountable. Hundreds of others inhabiting the same culture are demeaned and maligned by implication.
What damage is done to those who knew what was going on was wrong yet did nothing? For every person prepared to put their head above the parapet there are nine others who keep their heads down. How do those silent ones live with themselves? What does it do to their psyche?
Governments of all persuasions mouth platitudes about supporting whistleblowers but do nothing to establish it as a necessary part of every job. To not report something should be the offence. The emphasis needs shifting.
Collusion with madness should be unusual, not the norm.