Monday, December 06, 2010

Taking a Leak on Secrecy

Critics of WikiLeaks act as if the Web site is out to flush democracy—and with all the “leaks” and document “dumps” I am overwhelmed by the fantastical bathroom imagery long overdue in our discourse on government—but really miss the scandals that should-have-been.

The latest disclosures by the gadfly Web site have made things tough for the State Department under Hilary Clinton. Certainly we’ve been damaged diplomatically, but certainly less so than by the Iraq war, extraordinary rendition from friendly countries and decades of myopic foreign policy.

Where WikiLeaks really blundered was in its first big release of documents concerning the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It released the names of informers, interpreters and others working for the U.S., thus endangering their lives and making things more difficult for the lives of our military. When human rights groups criticized WikiLeaks for this, founder Julian Assange blamed them for not helping his organization sort through what he had. If you don’t know what you’re publishing, why are you publishing it?

And have the latest leaks been that dramatic or informative? That the government of Afghanistan is horrendously corrupt is not exactly news to anyone who’s opened a newspaper in the last eight years. I’m not surprised that we’re launching missiles from drones in Yemen, and your average Yemeni Al Qaeda sympathizer isn’t either. The revelations about their government lying about it may create some terrorist sympathizers there, but it won’t turn anyone who wasn’t leaning in that direction to begin with.

The usual litany of plastic patriots is calling these leaks an act of treason. In order for something to legally be considered treasonous, I believe that Congress has to legally declare war, something it hasn’t had the courage to do since 1941. Also, since WikiLeaks’ founder is Australian and the Web site’s server is now hosted by a Swiss company, their offenses, whatever they are, are not treasonous. I understand the outrage over disclosing secrets that can endanger American lives, but find it hard to take seriously coming from people who had no problem sending our military into two theaters of war without proper supplies, or on a hunt for weapons in Iraq that weren’t there.

And for all its faults, and assuming the worst about its founder and its intentions, having information public is better than not in a democracy. We the people should always err on the side of free speech and free access to information. However bad too much information can sometimes seem, it’s always better than the alternative.

1 comment:

OfTroy said...

Free speech has an interesting side effect, too.

As countries press becomes better able to cover real news, with out fear of reprisals, Famine goes away.

perhaps it is just goes away (hand in hand with better government)its not clear--except--it's a fact; if you have a free press, you likely aren't starving to death (for food or for information.