Sunday, December 26, 2010

WikiLeaks Revisited

by Richard Crews
Several months ago an organization named WikiLeaks began to make public secret documents about the U.S. conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. diplomatic communications from around the world. WikiLeaks provided hundreds of thousands of stolen documents to leading newspapers (The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel among others); WikiLeaks also published the documents on the Web.

The WikiLeaks documents were vast, and generally tedious and trivial. Tens of thousands of hours have now been spent by journalists, historians, and security annalists combing through the documents looking for nuggets of useful information. There is evidence that the U.S. Government has been secretive and deceptive in communicating to the American public and the world about its military efforts. In addition U.S. diplomats have been embarrassed by having caustic and critical remarks made public, remarks that they thought they were making in confidence.

The U.S. Government has arrested Bradley Manning who purportedly stole the documents, and arranged for the international arrest (on sexual assault charges in Sweden) of Julian Assange who founded and manages WikiLeaks. The Government also had international bank accounts closed and arranged for such major financial services as VISA, MasterCard, and PayPal to refuse to handle WikiLeaks donations.

In addition there has been a war in cyberspace between the U.S. Government trying to dismantle and destroy the WikiLeaks Website and "hackers" around the world who have tried to support and defend it.

Have there been any more dire consequences?

No one has been killed as a result of WikiLeaks. In fact the Pentagon reports that no one has had a changed assignment or been given extra protection because of the WikiLeaks revelations. The documents were carefully redacted before release to remove any personal identification that might bring about reprisals.

Furthermore, no one has been injured--except for Pfc. Bradley Manning who was arrested for stealing the documents and who, although he has had no trial and conviction nor even any charges filed against him, has been held in grueling solitary confinement for more than eight months and is showing signs of the mental and physical deterioration that is well known to result from such treatment.

Civil rights groups and some journalists and private activists have risen to challenge the governments' suppression of free speech. Also at issue is a democratic government's responsibility to be truthful with its citizens.

The Internet is proving to be an important evolving force for dissemination of information and for public involvement in governmental affairs. WikiLeaks is at least symbolic of this force, and perhaps, for now, the leading edge.