Who’s a rat?

I am a big, BIG proponent of freedom of speech, but this story makes me pause and rethink that. There’s a website devoted to “exposing the identities of witnesses cooperating with the government”, called Who’s a Rat. The Justice Department, obviously, is not happy. The intimidation factor for potential “rats” is plain to see. This really sounds like a high-tech mafia thug, particularly when it’s run by a guy named (or at least claiming to be named) Anthony Capone. Not that having the last name “Capone” should ruin a man, but in this context, there’s a definite shady implication.

The site says it has identified 4,300 informers and 400 undercover
agents, many of them from documents obtained from court files available
on the Internet.

So there you have it: All this info is publicly available anyhow. This site is just making it easier to find. And who are these “rats”, anyhow? Mostly they are criminals who have plea bargained for a lesser sentence in exchange for bearing witness against allegedly worse criminals. While it looks great in the movies or on TV, I have a problem with plea bargaining. It basically says, “tell us what we want to hear, and you won’t have to spend 10 years in prison”. Hell, I’d probably bear false witness against damn near anybody to avoid 10 years in prison. Just imagine what an even-less-scrupulous person would do. Buying testimony is like torturing a confession. You might wind up with the truth, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And suddenly, this website doesn’t sound all that bad.

Professor Bowman added that he was studying the deals prosecutors made
in the aftermath of the collapse of Enron, the energy company. “To do
that effectively,” he said, “I really need to know who flipped and the
nature of their plea agreements.”

And as much as the government portrays this as a witness safety issue, it’s really a witness illusion-of-safety issue. The witnesses never are actually safe. As I said, this website gets the information from publicly available sources. It just highlights the fact that this information is out there, which might reduce a thug’s willingness to plea bargain. Which is good for the thug and bad for the prosecutors.

So while the site leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I guess I have to argue that freedom of speech should still prevail.

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