by Adam Kopp ‘11
Given America’s current involvement in the Middle East and the past century’s “Domino Theory”-inspired spats with communism, one might think that the United States would fully support a website with the stated purpose of “exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.” The website in question is WikiLeaks, and it and its editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, have recently drawn the ire of U.S. government officials by leaking the Afghan War Diary and U.S. diplomatic cables. In the wake of these releases, many in Washington have been reprising Jack Nicholson’s role in “A Few Good Men” and labeling Assange a terrorist for revealing the truth that your average American apparently can’t handle, judging by the widespread opposition to Wikileaks’ actions.
The Afghan War Diary refers to the July 2010 leak of 75,000 documents pertaining to the War in Afghanistan. The documents gave a harrowing view of the war by making revelations that the U.S. military had previously failed to acknowledge. These included the killing of Afghani civilians by U.S. personnel, incidents of friendly fire among coalition forces and Taliban possession of heat-seeking missiles. The documents in question also contained the names of Afghanis who aided the International Security Assistance Force. Within a week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates claimed that WikiLeaks was morally guilty for putting the lives of these innocent Afghanis at risk.
Supposedly endangering informants put Assange in a bad light, but such claims were overblown and generally fallacious. In October, Gates eventually revealed that a Pentagon review showed that no sensitive intelligence sources or methods were released and that no Afghanis were in need of protection due to the leak. In the interim, with media hysteria redirected to sexual assault allegations against Assange, the government was spared the bothersome task of explaining why, for example, a U.S. patrol had opened fire on a bus and caused 15 civilian casualties. In any war, there will be incidents that military leaders are going to wish didn’t happen. The Pentagon, however, cannot be permitted to hide these events from the public nor can it be permitted to “shoot the messenger” by unduly labeling Assange a terrorist.
Fortunately, Assange was not deterred. In November, WikiLeaks released 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, about half of which were confidential. With the cables-leak, Assange was apparently threatening to derail global diplomacy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed, “It is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.” Assange didn’t attack any of these institutions; he simply revealed them. Members of this “international community” don’t have the right to act unfettered by the public. If a statement is going to look bad on the evening news, foreign officials should know better than to say it.
In his novel “1984,” George Orwell envisioned a dystopian future where a government had complete control over what news its benighted constituents received. In Orwell’s tale, Party members, operating under the purported cloaks of diplomacy and national security, were able to change a country’s adversary in the middle of a rally without anybody noticing. Only through the kind of transparency that WikiLeaks is struggling to achieve can Americans hope to safeguard against this sort of future.