Anand Gopal, Aicha Elbasri, James Risen, and Laura Poitras were the recipients of the 2015 Ridenhour Prizes, presented on April 29 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Nation Institute fellow Matthieu Aikins presented Gopal with The Ridenhour Book Prize for No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes — a book that was also a finalist for both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.
"Shifting your perspective can have a radical effect on your understanding of a situation. In Afghanistan, taking seriously the viewpoint of Afghan villagers means that the mythologies that we've built up about the war on terror immediately come tumbling down. And what is generally perceived here as a war against terror is perceived on the ground over there as a war against local communities in which thousands of innocent people have been wrongfully arrested, abused, and even killed," said Gopal as he accepted the prize.
Anand Gopal and Matthieu Aikins. Photo: Nathan Mitchell.
The Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling was presented to Aicha Elbasri by human rights activist John Prendergast. Elbasri disclosed secret documents to reveal the truth about the UN peacekeeping mission's failures in Darfur.
Aicha Elbasri and John Prendergast. Photo: Nathan Mitchell.
"Silence was never an option. It simply meant complicity in crimes against humanity. This is how I became a whistleblower," Elbasri said. "Today, I receive this honor with deep gratitude and sincere humility, and I wish in turn to share it with all UN whistleblowers."
Risen won The Ridenhour Courage Prize after a seven-year legal battle to protect his confidential sources and uphold the freedom of the press. The award was presented by Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who exposed the My Lai massacre and abuses at Abu Ghraib.
"I think the real courage in this, the last few years, has been required of whistleblowers and not journalists," Risen said as he accepted the award. Calling the Obama administration the most secretive since Nixon, he called on his fellow reporters to step up: "I do think that we in the press have to speak out more about the crackdown by the Obama administration on freedom of the press in the United States."
James Risen and Seymour Hersh. Photo: Nathan Mitchell.
Julia Angwin of ProPublica presented Poitras with the 2015 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize for "CITIZENFOUR," stressing the significance of capturing a meeting between a source and journalist on film. "There were no filmmakers that I know of in the garage when Bob Woodward met with Deep Throat," said Angwin. "We have never seen that."
In her acceptance speech, Poitras, who was also a co-recipient (with Edward Snowden) of the 2014 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, spoke about the need for encrypted communications in journalism. "I'd like to acknowledge the free software community that made this journalism possible, and it made [it possible for me] to communicate with Edward Snowden," Poitras said. She said that the award money will be donated to the Tails free software project.
To learn more about The Ridenhour Prizes, click here.