The Case for Wikileaks

by Carolyn Sortor, December 27, 2010 Share

This essay further explores some thoughts I first broached in a series of posts on c-Blog beginning Dec. 6, 2010.

We are living in times of extraordinary incursions against the rightful entitlements, powers, and freedoms of ordinary citizens. The U.S. Congress and other authorities have acquiesced in, among other things:

  • Routine secret service and police violations of First Amendment rights, including preemptive round-ups and detentions of legitimate, peaceful protesters (see various posts here, esp. here ["Police Prepare for RNC by Pre-Emptively Detaining 50 Potential Protestors, Journalists, & Lawyer"] and here ["Mind-Boggling Pre- RNC Police State Action"] and sources cited therein);
  • Wholesale NSA/AT&T violations of Fourth Amendment and privacy rights, including mass wire-tapping and mining of e-mails of U.S. citizens (see various posts here [e.g., "A Few Headlines: Whistle-Blower: Feds Have a High-Speed Backdoor Into Wireless Carrier . . . ."] and sources cited therein);
  • Gross TSA and other governmental or quasi-governmental violations of Fourth Amendment and privacy rights, including unreasonable, invasive searches without the least pretext of the Constitutionally-required probable cause (see posts here [e.g., "Future Attribute Screening Technology" and "What Body Scanners Really Show"] and sources cited therein);
  • The institution of policies of kidnapping, torture, and assassination of U.S. citizens and others (see, e.g., here ["Confirmed: Obama authorizes assassination of U.S. citizen," Salon], here ["Extraordinary rendition by the United States," Wikipedia], and here ["Outsourcing Torture," The New Yorker]);
  • The invasion of Iraq based on lies; the under-regulation and -enforcement of laws to protect human health and the environment, resulting in such disasters as the BP spill; the bail-outs of megabanks and misdirection of inordinate portions of the stimulus toward the top 2%, at the expense of the truly needy and deserving; etc.

The extent of these depredations is shocking; yet they're becoming the new norm. And apart from a few bit-part scapegoats, no one has been held to account; indeed, for the most part, they have not even been investigated by the media, let alone by Congress or other governmental agencies. Talk about the terrorists winning. And similar incursions are taking place in many other so-called democracies.

Knowledge is power, and a balance of power requires a balance of knowledge. The way things are now, governments and corporations know everything about us and we know almost nothing important about them.

There have been periods in the past when the traditional media did a better job of fulfilling their proper function as the "watchdog of democracy." But they haven't been doing that for some while (see, e.g., "leaked reports back up what Iraq vets have been telling journalists for years, only to be ignored" [HuffPo]).

I do not condemn individual journalists, most of whom probably act in good faith and certainly are over-extended and underpaid. But, leaving the internet aside for the moment, the vast majority of traditional media worldwide are directly or indirectly controlled by a handful of large corporations (see "Concentration of media ownership" at Wikipedia and sources cited therein). Resources for real reporting have been hollowed out, and most truly "liberal" journalists were driven out years ago. As a result, wittingly or not, much if not most of the traditional media functions mainly to "catapult the propaganda," as the second Pres. Bush put it, controlling the national agenda by echoing talking points originated by conservatively-funded think tanks and disseminated by Faux News et al.

As for the internet, the powers that be are already well on their way to controlling most of that, too; among other things, witness the latest proposed FCC regulations and this article about proposed legislation to give the U.S. President the legal power to "kill" the Internet; see also Lawrence Lessig re- the "iPatriot Act" and "Governments' moves to control the web." (UPDATE: See also "Why the Internet is a Great Tool for Totalitarians.")

Before publishing any portion of the U.S. Embassy cables or the Afghan War Diary, Wikileaks invited the State Dept. and the Pentagon, respectively, to review the leaked documents and recommend redactions of any identifying details that might put individuals in danger (see Glenn Greenwald at Salon here and here). Both invitations were categorically refused.

With respect to the cables, Wikileaks is working with the major newspapers of the world to carefully vet and redact everything it publishes, and it has published nothing that has not been published by one or more of those newspapers. As of this writing, less than one percent of the entire cache of 251,287 cables have been pubished (Salon, CNN).

Since Wikileaks was founded in 2006, not a single person is known to have been physically harmed as a result of any Wikileaks disclosure, ever. (UPDATE: Per the BBC, even the Pentagon has reluctantly confirmed, "[w]e have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the Wikileaks documents"; and per Reuters, Congressional aides say the State Department has told members of Congress privately that WikiLeaks' publications have been "'embarrassing but not damaging.'")

In contrast, as of this writing, the number of Coalition soldiers who have died because of the lies used to justify invading Iraq, conservatively counted, are nearing 5,000 (see, Iraqi deaths are nearing 1.5 million (see Just Foreign Policy), and the U.S. has spent over $1 trillion (see the National Priorities Project here). And Wikileaks' publications have revealed many other actions by governments and corporations that have brought needless death and destruction.

I believe that too much information is better than too little. I have more faith in our ability as a species to collectively sort through the info and interpret it helpfully, than I have in the likelihood that any smaller group of individuals entrusted with the power to pick and choose what we should know, without meaningful oversight, will fail to abuse that power.

(As Assange has said, "[w]hich country is suffering from too much freedom of speech? Name it. Is there one?").

Some have argued that Wikileaks' publication of State secrets is as bad as our governments' and big businesses' invasions of the privacy of U.S. citizens; but this is a false equivalency. I don't have the power to act on behalf of or make decisions affecting the welfare of millions of other people; and if I did, again, I should not also have the power to unilaterally decide what they get to know about it.

Some argue that Wikileaks' work is not REAL journalism and so should not be afforded the same First Amendment protection as other news media.

Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the corporate media in the U.S. FAILED to report the fact that the aluminum tubes claimed by the Bush admin to have been purchased for use in a nuclear weapons program were in fact ill-adapted for such use and were more likely purchased for other reasons (I heard that fact mentioned only on the BBC). Indeed, rather than verifying the Bush admin's claim, The NYT chose to publish Judith Miller's completely uncritical – if not complicit – story, "U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts" – a story substantially based on the deliberate leaking of classified information by Scooter Libby, chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney. If what Wikileaks does isn't journalism, I only wish The NYT and other corporate media did more of the same kind of non-journalism.

The corporate media are also the "journalists" who failed to analyze Bush admin claims far enough to realize that a half-dozen specious reasons to invade Iraq did not add up to one good one – something obvious to the millions who demonstrated against the invasion in "the biggest global peace protests before a war actually started" ("Protests against the Iraq War," Wikipedia)

There simply is no principled basis for distinguishing Wikileaks' publications from those of The NYT and other newspapers.

In truth, we should ALL be journalists, helping to analyze the facts and to decide what warrants further investigation; but to do that, we must ALL have access to the truth.

Some argue the information published by Wikileaks isn't important enough to justify the breach of secrecy. What do they say to the U.S. agents who warned of the possibility of 9/11 but were ignored, who believe that that tragedy might have been prevented if there'd been something like Wikileaks to leak to (The Los Angeles Times)?

How about the needless gunning down by U.S. military forces of a Reuters cameraman and Iraqi innocents shown in the leaked "Collateral Murder" video? Or, limiting inquiry to the U.S. Embassy cables, what about the revelations that six months before the worldwide economic meltdown that eviscerated the savings and livelihoods of millions, the governor of the Bank of England was secretly proposing a bailout of the world's biggest banks funded by the U.S. and others; or that the British government secretly assured the U.S. that it had "put measures in place to protect your interest during the UK inquiry into the causes of the Iraq war"; or that the U.S. dismissed British objections about secret U.S. spy flights taking place from the UK, amid British officials' concerns that the UK would be deemed an accomplice to torture; or that, in response to U.S. pressure, the German government assured the U.S. that it would not follow through on its investigation of the CIA's abduction of a German citizen mistakenly identified as a terrorist, Khaled el-Masri; or that the U.S. threatened the Italian government in order to make sure that no international arrest warrants were issued for CIA agents accused of involvement in the abduction of cleric Abu Omar; or that the U.S. sought assurances from the Ugandan government that it would consult the U.S. before using American intelligence to commit war crimes; or that as of 2009, Shell Oil had infiltrated all the main ministries of the Nigerian government; or that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer paid investigators to unearth corruption links to Nigeria's attorney general so as to pressure him to drop legal action for harm to children from a drug trial; or that government corruption in Afghanistan is rampant (viz. an incident last year when then vice-president Ahmad Zia Massoud was stopped in Dubai while carrying $52m in cash); or that the U.S. seeks to manipulate nations opposed to its approach to global warming; or that the U.S. and China worked together to prevent European nations from reaching an agreement at last year's climate summit; or that the Vatican refused to cooperate with an official Irish inquiry into clerical child abuse; or that BP covered up a giant gas leak in Azerbaijan eighteen months before the Gulf of Mexico disaster? To mention just a few items revealed as of 2010-12-21. (UPDATE: See also Glen Mitchell's "Why Wikileaks Matters" for The Nation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "The Best of Cablegate: Where Public Discourse Benefited from the Leaks," Glenn Greenwald's "What Wikileaks revealed to the world in 2010" at Salon, and Wikileaks - A timeline of the top leaks at The Telegraph; and to add just one from 2011 so far, "WikiLeaks points to US meddling . . . to keep the [democratically-elected] Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of Haiti." FURTHER UPDATE: See Greg Mitchell's "32 Major Revelations (and Counting)," including the fact that Wikileaks' publications are widely believed to have helped inspire the uprising in Tunisia against a brutal dictator; and for even more and more recently, see OpEd News. EVEN FURTHER UPDATE: See Greg Mitchell's top Cablegate picks as of his 100th day of blogging the story, here; and Kevin Gosztola's 100 leaks in 100 tweets, here.)

Which of these things did we have no right to know? Who should decide, and on what basis?

At some point, it's morally wrong not to leak – or, once others have taken the risks of leaking about crimes and corruption at high levels, not to publish.

Powerful people hope we'll believe that Wikileaks and Julian Assange are criminals, even terrorists. But the U.S. and other governments have struggled for months to find some legal violation to charge them with, without success.

To date, the U.S. law most discussed as a possible basis for charges is the Espionage Act, which was used to try to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers – and in that case, the charges were dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Wikileaks' case, the argument for a violation of the Espionage Act is even weaker, since (1) Wikileaks has neither stolen nor leaked any information but merely published information others leaked to it, and (2) Wikileaks is not a U.S. citizen or resident.

U.S. officials' best remaining hope is to persuade Bradley Manning, the soldier alleged to have leaked the U.S. cables to Wikileaks, to "confess" something to suggest that Wikileaks actively conspired with him to bring about the leak. As of this writing, they've held Manning for seven months without bail and without a date set for any hearing, in solitary and under conditions so harsh that the United Nations' top anti-torture envoy is now investigating the situation (see reports at Salon and Firedoglake; so far, no confession; but such conditions often induce dementia, so maybe they'll get lucky.)

And as of this writing, notwithstanding Assange's stint on Interpol's "most wanted" list in connection with allegations of sex without a condom, he has yet to be charged with anything (not that such allegations would be relevant, even if the evidence warranted charging him).

The lack of any basis for legal charges has not stopped governments and big businesses from using all their might to try to crush Wikileaks and Assange anyway. They've tried to strangle Wikileaks' presence on the internet through their own cyberattacks (yes, someone did it to Wikileaks before “Anonymous” did it to any of them) and by pressuring Wikileaks' website hosts and domain name registrars to drop Wikileaks; they're trying to starve the organization financially (MC, Visa, PayPal, Bank of America and others have stopped processing donations to Wikileaks, although you can still donate to the KKK even though "a large majority of sources consider the Klan a 'subversive or terrorist organization.'"); and much of the traditional media, particularly in the U.S., are working to bury revelations that Wikileaks has published or to make it and/or Assange look bad enough to make you forget about the governmental and corporate crimes that Wikileaks' publications are revealing.

Some conservative leaders in the U.S. have even called for the assassination of Wikileaks' staff (see, e.g., PeopleOKwithMurderingAssange). One has to wonder what might have happened to Assange by now if he hadn't had his "insurance" file.

The inescapable inference is that governments and big businesses are indeed afraid; but what they fear most is not that we'll be harmed, but that they'll lose their power – what they fear most is not terrorism, but us.

They fear what we might do if we learn the truth.

Because the crimes committed by the powerful and revealed in Wikileaks' publications have resulted in massive and needless death and destruction, and are far, far worse than anything alleged against Wikileaks or Assange.

The Wikileaks people have worked hard for little or no compensation and taken real risks, in the service of bringing greater justice to the world. If Wikileaks survives intact, the power of governments and big businesses to loot and destroy with impunity will be curbed. If Wikileaks is crushed or rendered ineffectual, we are the ones who will lose. Are we such fools that we'll help lynch the messengers, while failing to act on the gifts they've risked so much to bring us?

If Wikileaks can be crushed by the powers that be, we can ALL be crushed. There's just one thing that can stop them: US. If as little as five percent of the people travelling by air over Thanksgiving had refused to submit to invasive searches by TSA, it would have caused such a commotion that those searches would have been ended. If enough of us stand up for Wikileaks, it will be the end – at least for a time – of our governments' and big businesses' efforts to crush those who insist on the right to know what the powerful are doing to us and in our name.

Let's let the powerful know, we do value our freedoms. Show your support for Wikileaks. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Donate to Wikileaks and/or to Assange's defense fund. Don't let those who seek to financially strangle Wikileaks succeed.
  • Discuss the events and issues with your friends. (See here for more info and links re- the facts and issues at stake.)
  • Organize a gathering to watch/discuss the Swedish documentary, Wikirebels, and other video about the situation (there's all kinds of stuff online at YouTube and elsewhere).
  • Boycott Amazon, Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, Bank of America and any other companies refusing to process payments to Wikileaks. (Re- credit cards, most places in the U.S. accept Discover or American Express as alternatives; and Discover has the best cash-back program I'm aware of. Re- banking, you'll probably get better rates and service from a credit union anyway. You can find ratings re- financial soundness and other info re- local credit unions at
  • Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper and other media outlets, your governmental representatives and to Amazon, Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, Bank of America, and others.
  • Help search the cables for significant information; here are some search facilities: dazzlepod, cablefinder, leakysearch, cablesearch, and leakspinsauce; and there's a great summary of available facilities at WL Central.
  • Organize or participate in one or more protests. WL Central has info about events and protests in support of WL. Also, here's a FB page with some info.
  • For news about WL or Assange, check Greg Mitchell's blog at The Nation,, or; or here are some cool graphics that provide some useful info in visual form.
  • Read Ten Things You Need to Know About the Infowar, including Assange's 3-pronged strategy, here.
  • Here's a flyer you can distribute, with info in support of Wikileaks.

Please help spread the truth about Wikileaks and the information it's published.


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