The men and women who founded this nation sought to provide basic freedoms to the people, and central to these freedoms were the universal rights of self expression, speech, and press. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Information is the currency of Democracy” and no government can claim to truly exhibit democratic values while still maintaining a veil of secrecy.
During the Bush administration, the public was told that state secrets were not to be shared with the people. In the 2008 Presidential elections, we heard many promises from President Obama to head in a new direction, distinct from that taken by his predecessor. Still, Obama continues to support the policy of previous administrations hiding “classified” information from the public.
Wikileaks, an online non-profit organization created by Julian Assange that publishes classified information to the world, has challenged this system by making available millions of documents to the public, including information about the war, other countries and ultimately the people running our country. Many may argue that this is a threat to politicians’ safety and national security, as a government may need to keep certain information hidden to protect the very people they govern.
Yet there is no evidence that any information released will endanger any politician. In fact, calwatchdog.com stated that the U.S. government reportedly refused Assange’s request to work with him to keep hidden any names that could be compromised.
However, the Cold War is over and the time for secret, coded messages and closed room sessions ended with the falling of the Berlin Wall. It’s time to get back to a celebration of the core principles that make democracy special.
Specific examples of “leaked” information highlight the need for greater public awareness of government misconduct. In one of the leaks, Yemeni President Saleh stated to America: “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” This raises questions as to what exactly is going on in the Middle East. Why are our soldiers still there? What is the purpose of our presence? We also learned how Secretary of State Hilary Clinton wanted to obtain personal and financial information about foreign leaders, which helps us understand the ways in which diplomatic policy is actually carried out.
By reading these documents, the public educates themselves and obtains better knowledge of such issues otherwise not shared by the government.
Wikilieaks has opened a huge door for people not only in the United States, but throughout the world. Information is the biggest asset a person can obtain to take on the challenges of an ever-changing international and domestic political landscape. Wikileaks stands to improve our democracy, not weaken it.
We should embrace Wikileaks as a fundamental expression of freedom that is at the core of our Bill of Rights. The people of the world deserve universal access to knowledge. The line of thought that presupposes that some are more deserving of knowledge than others has been a historical tool to maintain not only intellectual elitism, but racism, sexism and classism.
Universal access to information should be a basic human right. Every time we begin to curtail the rights of individuals for the promotion of “national security” we run the risk of justifying total elimination of those rights.
Many consider both Private First Class Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief and founder of Wikileaks, heroes for making classified documents available to the public and increasing governmental transparency.
Make no mistake, Manning is a traitor who, along with Assange, has caused incalculable damage to both national security and diplomatic relations in the Middle East. They’ve both put innocent lives at risk by publishing the contents of Wikileaks and should both be regarded as enemies to the United States. Any claims to the contrary, claims that Manning is somehow a whistleblower who should be admired or that Assange is a revolutionary working to ensure governmental transparency, dramatically underestimate the damage they have done.
According to Afghanistan correspondent Tom Coghlan in the July 28th, 2010 issue of The Times, a British newspaper, Wikileaks published a list of documents which revealed the names of hundreds of Afghan intelligence sources. The Times investigated 28 of hundreds of other Afghan intelligence sources that were listed on Wikileaks who, to their knowledge, are still alive.
These are people with connections to the Taliban who are secretly helping U.S. and international intelligence communities. They provide an invaluable and necessary service which depends on their anonymity. Not only does Wikileaks pose a threat to our current informants within the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but it could substantially limit the agent’s ability to convert more people into informants. If potential informants sense that Wikileaks could publish their names, threatening their safety, it would dramatically reduce their desire to work with the U.S..
The leaked documents also pose a significant threat to our diplomatic relations. Documents released at the end of 2010 damaged the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. According to Time Magazine’s November 2010 issue, staff reporter Rania Abouzeid wrote that the leak fueled anti-U.S. sentiment within the country. According to an Associated Press article written in December of that year, leaked cables critical of Afghani President Hamid Karzai, damaged U.S. relations with Afghanistan.
“Diplomats must engage in frank discussions with their colleagues, and they must be assured that these discussions will remain private,” U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter said in a press release. “Honest dialogue–within governments and between them–is part of the basic bargain of international relations. We couldn’t maintain peace, security, and international stability without it.” Some degree of privacy is necessary within the diplomatic community; Wikileaks, by definition, prevents this.
While some transparency is admirable, the undeniable truth is that Wikileaks goes too far. Assange has shown a remarkable inability to distinguish between documents that are safe to publicize and documents that could cause significant damage.
Manning and Assange are not Whistle blowers seeking to inform the public, but are lawbreakers who have put innocent lives at risk.
–Pena is a junior majoring in communication studies and Belzberg is a sophomore majoring in CTVA. Both are members of the Speech and Debate team.