5 Horrifying Ways Scandals Were Covered Up
By Ryan Menezes
It's hard to imagine a more terrifying situation than having a damning piece of information on a person or group who is powerful enough to crush you like a bug. These people will do anything to keep their shady acts secret. Anything. So after you've read these five real cover-up stories, feel free to then think about how many more never came to light.
5 The Army Tried To Get The First Iraq Torture Whistleblower Declared Insane
If you can remember when the scandal broke about all the torture going on in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, you might put the date at some time in 2004, which is when your TV starting showing all those photos of naked, traumatized prisoners. But the scandal was actually reported on the previous year by Amnesty International; it just never quite captured our imaginations until we had those pics of human pyramids to illustrate things. And people in the army had also tried speaking out about what was going on earlier. The response wasn't really a "Thanks for bringing this to our attention!" situation.
Greg Ford was working in counterintelligence in Iraq, having been in the military for 30 years. In June 2003, he says he saw some bad shit go down at his base in Samarra. Mock executions, lit cigarettes stuck into detainees' ears, arms yanked out of sockets -- the sort of things that would be horrible even if they weren't war crimes, which they definitely were. So he went to a superior and asked for a formal investigation to be opened, and for his team in Samarra to be replaced. Ford says that his superior then gave him a chance to withdraw the complaint so they could all forget he'd said anything. Ford didn't, and a couple days later, he was strapped to a gurney to be sent out of the country. They said he was delusional.
Of course, the doctor who examined him once he was shipped out said he was perfectly fine -- actually, every single psychiatrist who has since examined him has said this -- but one initial doctor, according to Ford and a witness, changed her report to "delusional" when pressured by Ford's commanding officer. One doctor who examined Ford in Germany went on the record to say this was kind of typical. He'd been asked to evaluate three or four other soldiers who were fine, whose only symptom was reporting wrongdoing.
The goal, it seems, was never to lock Ford away in some institution, but to just get him removed from his base as soon as possible, even if it was a violation of procedure (and it was). That would pretty much put an end to whatever complaint he was lodging through the official channels, and if he went to the press next, well, why should anyone believe this guy? He's delusional! You know that common mental illness, the one that makes you hallucinate violations of the Geneva convention?
Ford was involuntarily discharged from the military. He spent the next decade trying to hold his superiors accountable, and he recently finally won a lawsuit, because ... haha just kidding. Of course he didn't. Good luck ever suing for what happens to you when you're in the military.
4 After Shooting An Innocent Man, Police Smeared Investigators With False Sex And Drug Stories
In hindsight, it was generally agreed that had the cops who shot Bernard Whitehurst simply admitted what they'd done, they'd have gotten away with it. They mistook Whitehurst for a different black man, a fleeing robbery suspect (even though the two were dressed totally differently). An officer might get off for such a shooting even today, and this was 1975, in Alabama. Instead, the officers covered it up, planting a gun on the corpse and claiming to have shot in self-defense after Whitehurst fired on them.
The cover-up was less than perfect. It was suspicious that the body was buried without an autopsy, and a tape of the police radio had been mysteriously deleted. (Allegedly, it'd captured an officer exclaiming, "You done shot the wrong n----r!") The Montgomery Advertiser-Alabama Journal newspaper led a crusade to investigate, spearheaded by publisher Harold E. Martin. SPOILER FOR THE REST OF THE ENTRY: Martin also did not get a "Thanks for bringing this to our attention!" note stuck to an edible arrangement.
This mayor, according to Martin, ominously told him, "The police can dig up anything on anybody they want to, and that includes you." And then a convict suddenly testified that Martin (who was also a Baptist lay minister) had been photographed with two black prostitutes. A detective gave a transcript of this statement to grand jurors, though it really doesn't seem like the sort of thing that should have been allowed to influence them. Martin declared that the detective had coerced the convict into making the false statement by threatening him with jail. Then the convict later went under polygraph ... and said Martin was correct.
Besides the paper, the investigation was carried out by District Attorney James Evans. He ordered Whitehurst's body exhumed, discovering that the man had been shot in the back and not in the chest, as the officers had claimed. He also traced the gun on the body to one that had to have been in police custody earlier. So police tried to shut Evans up the only way they could: They released stories saying he was maybe gay, had 20 abortions performed on his various girlfriends, and used drugs while partying with dealers whom he refused to prosecute.
The truth eventually came out about the cover-up. Eight officers resigned or were fired, and the mayor and the director of public safety resigned as well. Montgomery now has a historical marker formally recognizing the scandal, a reminder to everyone that the truth always comes to light. OK, not always, but most of the time. OK, maybe not most of the time, but it definitely happens on occasion, when the cover-up is particularly sloppy.
3 The Attorney General's Wife Was Kidnapped And Sedated To Shut Her Up About Watergate
Hopefully we won't be blowing anyone's minds by revealing that the scandal known as Watergate involved a fair amount of covering things up. But few people today know what happened to Martha Mitchell, the woman who kind of started it all. ("If it hadn't been for Martha, there'd have been no Watergate," claimed Nixon historian Richard Nixon.) She was married to Attorney General John Mitchell, and had a reputation for getting drunk and gossiping with reporters, earning her the nickname "The Mouth of the South."
When the administration started getting all Nixony with their reelection campaign, they tried to keep Mitchell in the dark as much as possible to make sure she didn't tell the press anything. That didn't quite work. Mitchell discovered that her daughter's bodyguard, James W. McCord, had been one of the guys arrested over the Watergate burglary, and he was also the security director for the Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP), but the administration was saying the burglary had nothing to do with that. So Mitchell got on the phone with UPI reporter Helen Thomas. Then, suddenly Thomas heard someone grab the phone from Mitchell as she said, "you just get away." When Thomas called the hotel back, the operator refused to connect the call, saying Mitchell was "indisposed."
The man who'd grabbed the phone -- and ripped the cord out of the wall, said Mitchell -- was Stephen King. No, not the famous author, come on. Idiot. This King was a former FBI agent now doing security for Nixon. Mitchell said he threw her on the bed and roughed her up, and when a reporter later tracked her down to a country club where she was being housed, she looked like a battered woman. She claimed to have been held against her will, and said King had gotten a doctor to inject her with a sedative. She called her confinement kidnapping, and said they even held a gun on her to keep her from leaving. King is still around today. The current president awarded him an ambassadorship.
They couldn't imprison her forever, and Mitchell talked when she got out, but no one believed her. The administration painted her as a mentally ill alcoholic, and this sounded about right to most people. Eventually, however, convicted Watergate conspirator James W. McCord confirmed everything she said about getting kidnapped. Today psychologists use the term "the Martha Mitchell effect" to describe when someone is labeled delusional but is actually right. Fortunately, this kind of practice ended shortly after ... aw shit, I just remembered the same thing happened to the Iraq whistleblower above. Well, surely it hasn't happened since then.
2 Switzerland Charged A Guard For Exposing What They'd Looted In The Holocaust, Turning Him Into A Refugee
Switzerland has traditionally had strict laws on bank secrecy. Under these, banks don't have to disclose customer info to the government, and are in fact prohibited from doing so even if said info relates to illegal activity. That's why your archetypal billionaire baddie always has a secret Swiss bank account, accessible only through a mysterious number tattooed on his left buttock. Since the law was first created in 1934, Switzerland has gone after four whistleblowers for breaking it. Three of those cases were about tax evasion. The fourth was a little different.
Christoph Meili worked as a night watchman at the Union Bank of Switzerland. His rounds included a regular tour of the shredding room, and you generally aren't supposed to peer at things too closely there or ask questions if you want to keep your job. Even so, when Meili saw ancient ledgers among the documents to be destroyed, with handwritten notes going back more than a hundred years, he had to check them out. And when he saw records in them from the '40s about funds taken from Jewish property owners in Berlin, it became clear that this was evidence of something more dirty than the usual bank shenanigans.
He took the ledgers and tried to release them, but this proved surprisingly hard. He tried newspapers, but couldn't get a response. It seems no one in Switzerland was interested in making these records public. Finally, he found a Jewish organization to take them off his hands and open an investigation. And then police opened an investigation ... into Meili, for leaking the documents. They charged him for violating the bank secrecy law, and the bank fired him. The Swiss press started hounding his family, who also started receiving death threats. It's not clear who sent them. It needn't have been the bank; it could have been anyone keen on upholding the law (just not, you know, the law against death threats).
So Meili and his family applied for asylum in the United States. And they were granted it, making him the first Swiss refugee to come to the U.S. (Switzerland isn't exactly a "shithole country," so people don't usually flee it.) The information he revealed led to the banks having to fork over a massive $1.2 billion settlement, only a small fraction of which was embezzled by the Holocaust survivors' families' soon-to-be-disbarred lawyer. And Switzerland ended up dropping the charge and letting Christoph, now an American citizen, return. The secret was already out, after all.
1 A Whole Bunch Of People Who Tried To Speak Out About A World Cup Stadium Were Assassinated
For the 2010 World Cup, the city of Mbombela in South Africa built a stadium, complete with buttresses designed to look like giraffes. As often seems to happen in situations like this, there was some corruption associated with the awarding of contracts and construction of this massive structure, and soon officials started speaking out and trying to draw attention to the scandal. Mbombela City Council speaker Jimmy Mohlala said he had evidence. Then he was gunned down outside his home.
The mayor, Lassy Chiwayo, received a text saying to keep quiet or "you will go to your place in a coffin." He wasn't assassinated, but he did blame these same conspirators for burning his house down, and he checked into a mental health clinic due to the stress. Meanwhile, the director of a local sports and arts council was gunned down as well. Then three other officials critical of the stadium situation died, all vomiting the same mysterious white foam, seemingly from an unknown poison.
The identity of one suspected killer was known to newspapers but not released. Instead they just referred to him using the most terrifying alias they could think of: Josh. In an interview, "Josh" denied responsibility for the previous killings, but claimed to have been hired by the government to kill several additional people. As for the man accused of ordering those killings, David Mabuza, it's a decade later now, and he's deputy president of the entire nation.
So yeah, that's how these stories usually end.