Sunday, December 12, 2010

WikiLeaks

Although I've often said "Secrecy is the enemy of democracy," I'd be lying if I said the WikiLeaks' dump of diplomatic cables didn't make me a little uncomfortable. I think the public interest would've been better served by a more targeted leak. Much of the information was more along the lines of high school gossip: juicy but harmless. I think this overload of trivia diminishes the real impact of the more important revelations.

However, the leaks show exactly to what extent the US government is wedded to secrecy. Much of the stuff 'revealed' did not need to classified. Is it really a state secret that Libya's leader likes his hot blonde Ukranian nurse or that Germany's chancellor is uncreative? Transparency should be the default position in a democratic society, with secrecy allowed only when truly necessary and under stringent, demonstrable conditions and okayed by an objective third party. Our national security state has it bass ackwards.

I'd prefer a more restrained WikiLeaks [WL] and a less restrained government, but if only given two choices, I'd rather have radical transparency than radical secrecy.

One thing I am certain about is that the reaction to WL frightens me far more than WikiLeaks' actions. Though none of this surprises Pentagon Papers 'leaker' Daniel Ellsberg, who pointed out that: "EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and [its founder] Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the most insufferably self-righteous man in Washington, bullied Amazon.com into booting WikiLeaks from its servers. If Amazon wants to boot WL, that's its prerogative. But when pompous politicians start pressuring organizations to impose censorship, that's pretty unnerving in a society that claims to be free.

Then there's Rep. Peter King, who opined that WL should be treated as a terrorist organization. In recent years, conservatives have waged war on many things, including language. Violence and the threat of violence is inherent to terrorism. To describe WL as a terrorist organization is to strip the word 'terrorism' of any meaning. To people like King, the war on terrorism includes the war on the unvarnished truth.

That's to say nothing of people like Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who said that if WL didn't do anything illegal, then the law should be changed.

And to say nothing of scum like Bill Kristol and Sarah Palin who called for the assassination of Assange. This terrorist organization needs to be dismantled via... umm... assassination (the non-terroristic kind of course).

The vice-president of PayPal said it froze WL's assets because the State Department unilaterally decreed the organization illegal. This McCarthyistic trashing of the rule of law is a far more dangerous precedent than anything WL did.

Oh by the way, none of the above incidents or suggestions involved in any way a court of law.

WL opponents claim that the organization has blood on its hands, that people have died because of its revelations. When reporters challenged their vitriolic rhetoric against WL, both the State Dept. and the Pentagon admitted that it had no evidence that anyone had actually died because of the leaks. Furthermore, Assange claims that before all three major leaks this year (Afghanistan, Iraq, diplomatic cables), it asked the Pentagon and State Dept. for its assistance in redacting out the names of people who might be at risk. In all three cases, the government refused cooperation... and then later whipped out the 'people will die' card.

For all the huffing and puffing, the fact is that innocent people were dying before WL's revelations. Those deaths were revealed by WL. And they continue to die.

For all the hysterical libel/slander, one fact remains indisputable: WL has not killed a single human being. It's merely revealed the killings of human beings by others.

Opponents are trying to have it both ways. They say the leaks are pointless because so much is frivolous. Then they claim that the leaks are reckless and putting people's lives at risk. Which is it: frivolous or life-threatening?

They are also trying to spin it by saying that the cables reveal that a) America's private diplomacy is remarkably consistent with its public diplomacy and that b) diplomats are doing a great job in a very complicated world. Neat trick.

I haven't looked extensively but the few cables I've looked at have actually redacted the names of "innocent bystanders." Though I suppose this means anyone named XXXXXXX has reason to fear for their life.

The cables have revealed some very important things related to US foreign policy. For example, I think it's important to know that the Saudi king is baiting the US to launch an aggression against Iran. I think it's useful to know that US diplomats privately admitted that the overthrow of Honduras' leftist, democratically-elected president was indeed illegal and unconstitutional, even as they publicly waffled.

Some people are concerned with provided metaphoric 'ammunition' to the bad guys. I’m more concerned about providing REAL ammunition to bad guys... something the cables and other reporting has revealed that our 'allies' in Pakistan and Afghanistan are doing. The cables reveal that Afghan head of state Hamid Karzai, whose government and personal protection would collapse without my tax dollars, is corrupt and in league with drug dealers and terrorist thugs. Ditto the Pakistani 'security' forces, who also receive more than a few of my tax dollars. My money is funding this crap. And thanks to WL, I know that even our diplomats admit this is a sham. I have personal friends who are putting their lives at risk to defend the crooked regime in Kabul. And my outrage and disgust supposed to be directed at Assange? Give me a break!

Despite all the sanctimonious official outrage at WL, what do I hear on the Voice of America's African news program a few days ago? A piece about a WikiLeak cable concerning the political situation in Kenya, another on a cable about Nigeria and a third about cables concerning African leaders. This includes the a bit about how angry the US government is that these cables have been published. That's the same VOA is run and funded by... the US government.

So it’s supposedly illegal for ordinary Americans to share the WikiLeaks cables but ok for a US government mouthpiece to publicize them?

Some argue that WL has been reckless and unrestrained. Yet, according to The New York Times:

Had it chosen to do so, WikiLeaks could have posted on the Web all 251,287 confidential diplomatic cables about six months ago, when the group obtained them. Instead, it shared the cables with traditional news organizations and has coordinated the cables’ release with them. As of Friday, fewer than 1 percent of the cables had been released on the Web by the antisecrecy group, The Times and four European publications combined.

“They’ve actually embraced” the mainstream media, “which they used to treat as a cuss word,” [Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University] said. “I’m watching WikiLeaks grow up. What they’re doing with these diplomatic documents so far is very responsible.”

When the newspapers have redacted cables to protect diplomats’ sources, WikiLeaks has generally been careful to follow suit. Its volunteers now accept that not all government secrets are illegitimate....


What is the ultimate illustration of US government hypocrisy? The fact that some of the WL leaks were published on... the State Department's own website.

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