WIKILEAKS


When WikiLeaks was exposing countries such as China and Kenya, it was hailed in the West as a valuable addition to journalistic endeavours to bring information to the public. In June 2009 it was awarded the New Media Award by the Economist Magazine. The following year it was awarded the New Media Award by Amnesty International. Now that it has begun exposing the West, attitudes have been transformed and WikiLeaks in now seen as an enemy. Calls are being made for its founder, Julian Assange, an Australian, to be charged with spying. He is in hiding and WikiLeaks is being denied internet facilities by Amazon which means that access to websites in the US are being shut down. Reports suggest that Amazon has been pressured by the US Administration to deny WikiLeaks access to internet facilities. Amazon has not commented on these reports.

All countries need confidentiality for the conduct of diplomatic activity. Unless this prevails international contact will be reduced and international relations will be severely obstructed. No diplomat would knowingly engage in frank exchange of views among his/her colleagues or with friendly countries. Lack of or reduced contact will give rise to misunderstandings. Tensions will rise. War might ensue, particularly in trouble spots. While no one should defend the promotion of ‘wrongdoing’ or ‘unethical’ behavior by developed countries, or any country for that matter, under the cover of diplomatic confidentiality – and there appears to be some of this exposed by the leaked cables – nevertheless the greater evil is the disruption of diplomatic intercourse. Thankfully, it appears that the leaks will not damage this process. No doubt diplomats and countries will be more circumspect and greater efforts will be made to protect the secrecy of communication.

Free speech is one of the most sacred and cherished freedoms in the world. All over the world enormous sacrifices have been made in the fight for free speech, including sacrifices of life. The courts of the United States have led the way in expanding the right of free speech. It is this protection which facilitates WikiLeaks in publishing the leaked cables. It is the same protection which enabled Dr. Daniel Ellsburg to defeat his attempted prosecution when he leaked the Pentagon Papers in the 1960s which exposed the lies that the Vietnam War was going well and which had an important influence in bringing an end to it. And it is the right of free speech, so zealously guarded in the US, which ought to protect Peter Assange from prosecution.

Notwithstanding the reluctance of the US to prosecute persons for leaking information, there have been calls for the prosecution of Assange, as stated above, under the Espionage Act which, if successful, will result in a lengthy prison sentence. This is not Assange’s only problem. The Swedish authorities have issued a warrant for his arrest, which was followed by an Interpol warrant, for sexual assault against two female staffers of WikiLeaks. Observers have noted the coincidence of these charges with the leaks and the unusual international manhunt which was triggered against Assange as a result of the Interpol warrant. This sudden initiation of charges and threats of charges against Assange look suspiciously like attempts to intimidate him and WikiLeaks. This is unfortunate because despite the negative consequences of disclosing confidential diplomatic information, the balance of advantage for the public lies in ensuring that ‘wrongdoing’ and ‘unethical’ conduct does not prevail.

It cannot be doubted that the information about Iraq and Afghanistan contained important revelations, including the deliberate killing of civilians by the US military, about which the public ought to know. Some harm may have been done to security interests but it is wrong to withhold information from the public which the public has a right to know. In this sense WikiLeaks may be treading on diplomatic toes by its leaks. The Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has been quite angry. But, quite apart from the titillating views and information which have been revealed, the right of the public to know is more important than protecting politicians and public figures from embarrassment.

If leaks had occurred early enough of President Kennedy’s pressures on Prime Minister Macmillan about refusing Independence to British Guiana in order to facilitate the removal of the PPP Government, British Guiana might have been spared the trauma of the 1960s. (www.conversationtree.com).

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