WikiLeaks Keeps It Real
If you’ve been keeping up with the news for the past month or so, the name WikiLeaks should sound more than familiar, as well as the constant battle between the site and many governments. WikiLeaks, an international non-profit organization that publishes private, secret and classified media, has recently been releasing classified documents of detailed correspondence between the U.S. State Department and its diplomatic missions from countries around the world.
The organization, run by Australian Internet activist Julian Assange, has been publishing the diplomatic cables since Nov. 28, 2010. As of Jan. 1, 2011, WikiLeaks has released 1,947 of the reported 251,287 cables. Of course, the U.S. diplomatic cables leak wasn’t the first from WikiLeaks. The organization has been active since December 2006, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that it caught the attention of the American public.
In April 2010, WikiLeaks posted a 39-minute video that featured U.S. Army helicopters mistaking Iraqi civilians and two Reuters staff members for Iraqi insurgents and subsequently firing upon them. The attack resulted in the deaths of 12 people, and two children were wounded. In June, Pfc. Bradley Manning was arrested for allegedly disclosing the video along with 260,000 diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.
In July and October, WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. Such documents described friendly fire incidents, reported civilian casualties and claimed that the U.S. government ignored reports of torture by Iraqi authorities after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In addition to releasing the rest of the diplomatic cables, Assange has stated that there is much more that WikiLeaks is planning to make public. He reported that they have video footage of the U.S. military massacring civilians, and a “megaleak” involving a big U.S. bank will occur in early 2011.
As expected, Western government officials, particularly those from the United States, have voiced their disapproval and criticized WikiLeaks for potentially endangering international relations and national security.
Considering the content of the leaks, the many state governments that are affected by the leaks have a right to be embarrassed and angry. The leaks present unflattering comments made against certain officials, human rights violations and so much more.
Will the leaks really jeopardize international relations? While they probably will dampen or stall any “progress” that may have been made, it’s doubtful that they will cause nations to turn on one another and spark serious conflict.
In the Afghan War documents leak, WikiLeaks reportedly did identify hundreds of Afghan informants. Thankfully, Pentagon spokesmen have stated that they have yet to see any harm come to the people who were named in the documents, though this was back in October.
The leak that has come closest to threatening national security is the controversial list of infrastructure (not military) sites that the U.S. considers critical for its national security interest, which the organization released on Dec. 6, 2010. While WikiLeaks did redact names and locations from the secret list, there is no doubt that America’s enemies will want to take a look at that list.
Some commentators have hailed WikiLeaks for exposing corporate and government secrets, holding individuals and groups accountable for their actions and keeping all citizens informed. Already, WikiLeaks has received a multitude of commendations and awards for doing so.
Many have been comparing the WikiLeaks with the Pentagon Papers back in 1971. Though sharing some similarities, they are ultimately different. The Pentagon Papers revealed that the U.S. systematically lied to the American people and the world. If anything, what WikiLeaks is doing is simply confirming our suspicions as well as what we already know.
We already know that our wars in the Middle East aren’t going very well, and the accounts of civilian casualties, friendly fire and government corruption aren’t entirely new because we have been hearing such reports for well over the past five years. While some of the leaked diplomatic cables certainly raise some eyebrows, they aren’t having the same impact as Daniel Ellsberg (who is one of WikiLeaks’ biggest supporters) and the Pentagon Papers.
At this point, there isn’t much that the U.S. government can do to stop WikiLeaks from continuing to post more cables and documents. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that the U.S. government can use the Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute those who have been involved in the WikiLeaks releases, like Manning.
However, that isn’t to say that WikiLeaks is not having troubles of its own. After the first of the diplomatic cables leaked, several companies have severed ties with the organization, which include PayPal, PostFinance, MasterCard, Visa and (surprise!) Bank of America. Not only that, Assange is currently under house arrest in England, awaiting an extradition (to Sweden) hearing. Nevertheless, WikiLeaks has shown no signs of slowing down.
As long as WikiLeaks isn’t placing any lives in danger, the New University supports the continual release of any cables, documents and videos that the organization is planning to release. Instead of finding a way to stop WikiLeaks and silence Assange, world governments should instead learn from this experience. We hope that further releases will lead to more responsible action around the world.
Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, year and major.