Friday, December 03, 2010

WikiLeaks and the Public Interest


The major news story of the past week has focused less on the content of what WikiLeaks is showing us than on the fact of WikiLeaks itself.

A minority of press organizations are actually reading and reporting on the documents. Most of the noise is about punishment. Will Julian Assange, the site's founder, be arrested and extradited to the U.S.? Will he be tried under the Espionage Act? Will anyone be exposed to danger, will anyone be killed, because of what is revealed in these confidential documents? Will Julian Assange mysteriously turn up dead?

When WikiLeaks was issuing documents pertaining to our wars in the middle east, I was apprehensive. How does such a small organization go about redacting documents so as not to endanger any person's life? This has been the cry of the American government and the right wing: undercovers are going to get blown up, people will die because of this irresponsible act.

So far, that has not been the case. Loose lips have not sunk any ships thus far. And it will not be the case, apparently, from the diplomatic files currently being released through WikiLeaks. I am inclined to think Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was correct when he said foreign policy would suffer, at worst, "modest" setbacks owing to these documents being made public.

I regard WikiLeaks as a whistleblower. They are fulfilling an important function that our own news media, our supposed "watchdog" media that exists to provide an adversarial check on state power by reporting truthfully on its actions and investigating its hidden business, has failed to do. It is doubtful that Julian Assange or anyone on the WikiLeaks staff is guilty of espionage, no more so than the New York Times was when it published the "Pentagon Papers," or the Washington Post when it exposed Watergate.

What they are revealing, moreover, is in the public interest. There is an effort underway to say that nothing new is being revealed. On the contrary, there is confirmation of some of the worst fears of our citizens, and some things are even worse than we thought. This is all very much in the public interest.

Previously, we blogged in this space about the revelation of a memo from our Honduran ambassador, stating unequivocally that the Honduras coup in 2009 was illegal and that there was no legitimate grounds for it. Despite this analysis, the administration failed to fulfill certain legal obligations it had in the event of a coup d'etat there, and tacitly supported the coup while pretending it did not understand the situation.

That's just for starters. Here are some highlights from what I've been reading this week.

Our State Department ordered diplomats to spy on U.N. officials, including the Secretary-General, to obtain email passwords and addresses and credit card information. This is Obama's state department, not Bush's.

We find the Obama government interfering with investigations of CIA actions in Germany and Spain. Additionally, we learn of the Obama Administration interfering in the independent judiciary of another country, Spain again, because it had the audacity to open an investigation into U.S. war crimes.

That is already a pretty shocking pile of crap, and there is much more. Additional evidence that we were purposefully lied to about the Iraq war. More stuff about ignoring torture. More stuff about inhibiting investigations. More stuff about the body counts in our wars. More damaging stuff about Secretary Clinton and her state department. Awful, awful, awful.

This is unpleasant news, and the fact that we have to learn it from an outfit like WikiLeaks is an indictment on our press organizations. It is all very much in the public interest and our government, instead of exerting improper pressure on corporations to inhibit Americans' access to WikiLeaks, should be answering a long list of very hard questions.

I am far less concerned with the morality of Julian Assange than I am with the moral compass of our own government. I am not aware of a single person dead or endangered because of this material; I am aware of horrific numbers of people killed in wars of aggression waged in my lifetime, and I am aware that our government acts as a superpower that views itself above international law, that interferes with the politics and judicial branches of other nations right up to today, that Obama and Clinton have only elaborated on the gross overreaches of American power, domestically and internationally.

Our national security is not at risk. It is just our beneficent face that is in question. As Glenn Greenwald noted, "for authoritarian minds, those who expose secrets are far more hated than those in power who commit heinous acts using secrecy as their principal weapon."


[Photo: somebody leaked a photograph of my patriotism]

1 comment:

Nathan said...

i finally went over and took a look at the wikileaks site. totally fascinating.