Blow that whistle,
Sound alarm;
You’ll get tagged,
For endless harm.

Iceland certainly needed a PR boost. It has never received proper credit for its strict and sustainable management of fisheries. Other nations would do well to follow suit. Instead, it’s more publicized for its shame as one of the world’s few remaining nations that won’t stop hunting whales. It scored low on global popularity polls for whaling. Then it proceeded to lose its shirt in the international banking meltdown. Followed by that annoying volcano, which devastated air travel for weeks. Plainly, Iceland isn’t a place to emulate.

Until now. Icelanders are a resourceful lot. (You’d better be if you live in that climate.) This summer, they officially began to provide an international haven for whistleblowers and investigative journalists. Its parliament even passed a profound new law allowing muckraking websites to set up shop there without fear of retaliation. Lawmakers scoured protection laws in every country that dealt with the subject and plucked out the best parts.

That’s how Iceland became the apparent home of WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange. The organization, which became famous for posting video footage of a U.S. helicopter gunship mowing down Iraqi civilians and releasing thousands of Afghanistan War documents, doesn’t say on its otherwise detailed website where on Earth it’s located. Champion Vietnam whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg suspects that Assange is already on the White House assassination list (as Ellsberg himself was under Nixon), so Iceland may actually not be a bad place to lay low for awhile.

Admittedly no law in Iceland is going to offer much cover to your run-of-the-mill, conscience-stricken American. If you turn in your boss for fraud, malpractice, thievery or incompetence, you are still likely to lose your job and may be sued. Perhaps prosecuted.

Fortunately you can take heart that there are blessed non-profit organizations that do what they can to help. The Government Accountability Project supports courageous public servants and the ACLU represents other heroes who are persecuted for truth-telling. As usual, there’s not enough help to go around and many whistleblowers simply end up as martyrs.

Most serious are those incidents invoking “national security.” These usually involve “classified” material. Now that sounds really important. We envision nuclear formulas or strategic battle plans that would undermine the safety of the republic if divulged. Surely that was the original idea. But over time classification has eroded. Now it is done so automatically that one suspects it mostly enhances one office’s control of information over other offices.

Worst is when it’s simply used to hide screw-ups. As you can imagine, any video of our soldiers massacring civilians is highly classified. The poor GI who slipped this one to WikiLeaks will be lucky ever to see daylight again.

So let’s hear a cheer for Iceland, after we boo them for hunting whales. The island may not offer much protection to you and me, but it could become a major refuge for those with the guts to expose the lies of world leaders.

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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