Why WikiLeaks Matters

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Writing for Guernica, anti-war activist Norman Solomon had this to say about the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks this week:

No government wants to face documentation of actual policies, goals and priorities that directly contradict its public claims of virtue. In societies with democratic freedoms, the governments that have the most to fear from such disclosures are the ones that have been doing the most lying to their own people.

That above statement–as well as the rest of the essay by Solomon, and others, like this one by Arianna Huffington and this one by Tom Hayden in The Nation–is exactly why Tim Heffernan at Esquiremisses the point on what WikiLeaks is doing. These leaked documents may not be all that surprising when one thinks about what governments do and how armies act in times of war. Any lack of surprise, however, comes from previous speculation (by you, me, anyone paying attention) for which there is now proof in the form of these released documents. While they may confirm more than inform, what led us to become informed has been much guess work and the stuff of Tom Clancy novels–not necessarily the proof of actual government documents. The dismissal, then, of these documents as unimportant is the wrong response. Indeed, confirming speculation is of great importance, otherwise the deceit continues unabated and jabs of “conspiracy theory” are more easily thrown (see video below).    

Another point where the debate goes awry is in discussing the prosecution of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is the vehicle by which these cables–and the previous war logs–are released. The only people who should be held accountable by any U.S. court would be those providing the information to the messenger, as was pointed out this morning on Democracy Now! by Scott Horton, a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine:

I think, here, the U.S. government does have a basis to bring criminal claims against persons who disclose this information. It’s the individuals who owe the duty to the United States to preserve the confidentiality or secrecy of the information and who disclosed it. So whoever did that–and, of course, Bradley Manning is a focus–would naturally be the subject of a criminal investigation and prosecution.

While the claim that WikiLeaks should be prosecuted is troubling, The Washington Timesclaims that WikiLeaks should be responsible for any sort of “verification” or “corroboration” of the leaked documents may be more so. The paper itself admits that “The WikiLeaks database may be a starting point for analysis of events in the Iraq war, but it renders only a superficial look at any given topic.” Why then should an organization whose stated purpose is “to publish original source material” be expected to also fulfill the job of the journalists who come to the “starting point” to create their stories? It is the responsibility of The New York Times, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and, yes, even The Washington Times–though they apparently have the desire to shirk that responsibility–et al. to craft the stories that appear as news to the public. As with the Pentagon Papers, the lot of the information is there, but it may take news organizations or political theorists to wade through what it all means. That’s the journalists’ responsibility, not that of the vehicle delivering the information. 

And while the expectation of The Washington Times is misbegotten, it is another suggestion in the same article that is downright scary:

The government also should be waging war on the Wikileaks Web presence. There are a variety of means whereby technicians could render inoperable the sites distributing the classified information. Wikileaks could respond by using alternate sites, but those could be targeted as soon as they came online. Wikileaks has a small staff and limited resources. Relentless attacks on the servers and sites dispensing this classified information would have a debilitating effect on the leakers’ morale and help widen the fissures that already have appeared in the group. This battle could offer some practical experience to American cyberwarriors who one day will face even greater threats from state-sponsored Web war.

The fact that anyone in the world can view Pentagon classified documents at will sends a signal of American impotence and inspires future cyberfoes. If Wikileaks wants to play this game, the very least our government can do is suit up and get out on the field.

That’s the true American spirit! Get caught lying and use the whistleblower as target practice for a future war. Norman Solomon long ago concluded that the “nation’s military and diplomacy are moving parts of the same vast war machinery.” With calls to action like that from The Washington Times we might as well add the nation’s media to the list.

Update, 12/02/10:

Source: Guernica, Esquire, Democracy Now!, The Washington Times, The Huffington Post, The Nation

Image by Jer Thorp,licensed under Creative Commons.

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