The US's Reaction To Wikileaks Is Doing A Lot More Harm Than The Leaks Themselves

from the destroying-any-moral-high-ground dept

It's becoming clear as the weeks go on, that the US government's massive overreaction to the latest Wikileaks releases is doing much more harm to the US's standings abroad than anything in the documents themselves. So far, most of the reaction from various politicians and diplomats concerning the actual content of the documents was that some of it might be slightly embarrassing, but there's been nothing all that surprising. Some foreign diplomats have joked back: "you should see what we say about you." And yet, we're still hearing claims that Julian Assange needs to be put on trial or (worse) executed, and other forms of "attacks" should be made on Wikileaks itself. All this has done has been to have foreign governments and diplomats start mocking the US for not living up to its claims of supporting freedom of the press and freedom of expression. This will make it much, much harder any time the US tries to stop any form of censorship in other countries, as they'll immediately point back at how many of our politicians flipped out over Wikileaks.

A bunch of folks sent over this blog post by Jack Goldsmith, which succinctly summarizes how backwards and damaging the US's response to Wikileaks has been. He questions if whoever leaked the diplomatic cables (he names Bradley Manning, but nothing has yet proven that he's the specific source, as far as I know) directly to the NY Times -- and the same info would likely have been published -- would the US government reacted in the same way?
Would our reaction to that have been more subdued than our reaction now to Assange? If so, why? If not, why is our reaction so subdued when the Times receives and publishes the information from Bradley through Assange the intermediary? Finally, in 2005-2006, the Times disclosed information about important but fragile government surveillance programs. There is no way to know, but I would bet that these disclosures were more harmful to national security than the wikileaks disclosures. There was outcry over the Times' surveillance disclosures, but nothing compared to the outcry over wikileaks. Why the difference? Because of quantity? Because Assange is not a U.S. citizen? Because he has a philosophy more menacing than "freedom of the press"? Because he is not a journalist? Because he has a bad motive?
He also notes that a reporter like Bob Woodward has published and revealed "many details about top secret programs, code names, documents and the like," obviously with direct help from top administration officials... and yet there's been no anger and threats about all of that. Among the many points he raises, one is particularly compelling: any attempt to actually charge Assange will backfire for a huge list of reasons:
I think trying to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act would be a mistake. The prosecution could fail for any number of reasons (no legal violation, extradition impossible, First Amendment). Trying but failing to put Assange in jail is worse than not trying at all. And succeeding will harm First Amendment press protections, make a martyr of Assange, and invite further chaotic Internet attacks. The best thing to do -- I realize that this is politically impossible -- would be to ignore Assange and fix the secrecy system so this does not happen again.
Yet again, I'm left noticing the similarities between the US government's reaction to Wikileaks and the entertainment industry's reaction to file sharing. Each move that it made, including going legal, backfired in a big, bad way. It's really quite stunning to watch the US government make the same mistakes.


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  1.  
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    crade (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 9:42am

    I think alot of the issue with Wikileaks comes from the organization structure being basically out of reach of many of the usual influences.

    If the times had published this stuff, it's no biggy because they still have a degree of control over them, and if they overstep, the government can easily come down on them, pressure them, influence what gets put out, do things to threaten the time's business etc.
    They really don't have much control over Wikileaks at all, which is probably more of a perceived problem for them than anything that has actually been released.

     

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:00am

    Stunning

    "It's really quite stunning to watch the US government make the same mistakes."
    I see it as being completely normal. Just got to remember it's the same corporate shill types who work for large media corporations and the government. Often, they interchange jobs from one to the other...

     

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    bwp (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:00am

    Why is it stunning?

    "Yet again, I'm left noticing the similarities between the US government's reaction to Wikileaks and the entertainment industry's reaction to file sharing. Each move that it made, including going legal, backfired in a big, bad way. It's really quite stunning to watch the US government make the same mistakes."

    Haven't you pointed out time and again that I lot of the top people in the Justice Department came from Hollywood? If so then I would expect them to act the same way in DC that they did in Hollywood.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:08am

    "Why the difference?"

    Because it's on the Internet, that big scary place full of the worst of the worst.

    /sarcasm (in case it didn't jump out of the screen and bite you)

    "any attempt to actually charge Assange will backfire"

    Here's my question. Will he be charged? With all this hoopla about how bad this person is, what are the odds that he would even be heard from again after crossing the US border?

     

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    Andrew, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:15am

    ...not all that surprising

    So far, most of the reaction from various politicians and diplomats concerning the actual content of the documents was that some of it might be slightly embarrassing, but there's been nothing all that surprising.
    I agree with the title of this post - that the US reaction to the leak is doing far more harm than the actual content of the leaks, but the notion that we haven't learned anything all that surprising is used in an odd dichotomy by wikileaks' detractors along with bemoaning the damage to national security.

    It's unfortunate to see this false notion perpetuated - it speaks to the failing of the mainstream media to examine the real issues exposed by the cables. The fact is, we've learned a lot. Glenn Greenwald breaks it down pretty well.

    (1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

    (2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA's kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

    (3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA's torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch today about this: "The day Barack Obama Lied to me"); 

    (4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War "investigation"; 

    (5) there were at least 15,000 people killed in Iraq that were previously uncounted;

    (6) "American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world" about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post's own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

    (7) the U.S.'s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal -- a coup -- but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

    (8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

    (9) Hillary Clinton's State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961. 

     

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    interval (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:16am

    Why is it news?

    Why are most individuals (at least the ones I know?) seemingly quite intelligent yet when in crowds or any kind of group so stupid?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:16am

    So what actual harm has come to the US because of its reaction?

    So far, it has just been a lot of hot air.

    As for him being charged? Personally I think that the safest country for him to be in would be the US.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:18am

    Re:

    "If the times had published this stuff, it's no biggy because they still have a degree of control over them, and if they overstep, the government can easily come down on them, pressure them, influence what gets put out, do things to threaten the time's business etc. "

    Hmmm, you might want to see who's been publishing cables and the analysis of the cables. You might recognize a newspaper or two ;)

     

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    DMNTD, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:20am

    Mistakes?

    The people who have done the harm to the entertainment industry all learned from the Big G Mike. Also by history what the Big G is doing right now is anything but a mistake..common.

     

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    Matthew Stinar (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:22am

    My real take away from the Wikileaks story

    Whether Wikileaks are the highest of journalists or the lowest of criminals, one thing is clear to me. A grave problem within the US government has come to light, that its leaders would attack the very underpinnings of democracy and freedom to accomplish a goal. This means is most definitely not justified by any end, no matter how noble. Now that this problem has been exposed, we can begin to seek out a solution that will protect our citizens and the world.

     

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    Jay (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:25am

    Re: Why is it stunning?

    Let's also remember, Mitch Bainwol once worked for the Justice Department.

    Our government IS Hollywood by this point.

     

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    Jay (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:26am

    Re: Why is it news?

    Terry Goodkind - Wizard's First Rule - "People are stupid"

    When they get in large numbers, the mob mentality takes over.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:28am

    Re:

    >>I think alot of the issue with Wikileaks comes from the organization structure being basically out of reach of many of the usual influences.

    One result of the domain shutdown has been to give a boost to other whistleblower sites such as OpenLeaks which is supposed to go live today (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6BC23E20101213). It is going to be a lot harder to monitor and crack down on a distributed network like OpenLeaks proposes.

     

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    Derek, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:29am

    The government doth protest too much for the purpose of diverting attention.

    As more of the newsy-go-round is devoted to Wikileaks, less is devoted to the leaks themselves, the outrageous policy hypocrisy some illustrate, or unveiling our government's deep and shadowy marriage of state and corporate interests.

    US corporatocracy depends on people not thinking for themselves. It's a very successful tactic.

     

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    Chargone (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:32am

    Re:

    the odds of him being shot while resisting arrest are stupidly high. remember, this can happen to you in the USA because you can't hear what the hell the cop- is screaming at you and thus do not lie down on the ground fast enough because you don't realize that that's what you've been told to do. the one saving grace is that cops seem to have terrible accuracy over there, on average

     

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    gmsamaras (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:43am

    The US's Reaction To Wikileaks

    Surely, you realize that having no secrets and no backroom deals (it was called "transparency" in the 2008 elections) makes being in power less fun and far less profitable ...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:44am

    Re:

    But if the government has control over what the New York Times publishes, by pressuring them, influencing them and threatening their business, it's not really freedom of speech is it? I thought the definition of freedom of speech, was being able to publish without fear of being persecuted, and being able to publish without, pressure, influence and threats?

     

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    crade (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:49am

    Re: Re:

    I don't really see your point. Covering the story after it is already out in the open is a completely different ballgame. Perhaps I phrased badly and should have used: "if the times had been the one controlling and releasing this stuff" instead?

     

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    interval (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:56am

    Re: Re: Why is it stunning?

    That's great. We get Pauly Shore as our Secretary of State.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 10:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Why is it stunning?

    And put Andy Dick in charge of the DEA...

     

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    ZLD, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 11:08am

    Re: Why is it stunning?

    Came here to say exactly this.

    If the people running the country follow in the same circles as those from the RIAA/MPAA, shouldn't this have been expected?

     

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    crade (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re:

    Some forms of influence are widely accepted. Press releases are influence, as is the police asking the press to hold off on a story so as not to hinder an investigation. Having to worry about following U.S. laws is a form of influence and pressure.

     

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    Cowardly Anon, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 11:27am

    Is it really?

    Is it really so surprising that the US Government is taking the same track as the entertainment industry? Seeings as the Government is for the most part backing the entertainment industry and said industry is taking the 'we've won!' head in the sand approach...

    Also, since when has the US Government had or cared about moral high ground? Honestly now, it's been a giant hypocrite for a very long time...this really isn't something new.

     

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    ignorant_s, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 11:28am

    Silly Gov't, tricks are for autoritarian regimes...

    The Government cannot constrain the free press. Any attempt to do so will backfire, so it is no surprise that there is a strong push-back against their attempt to conceal truthful information...Especially in this information age, where the people's access to information is not limited by their borders, or cultural surroundings.

    Rather, people now have access to a variety of news sources and opinions from the independent media--meaning the media which are not further constrained by the financial reality that they must not alienate their corporate advertisers. Many people clearly value this access to information. And when the government tries to censor truthful information regarding elected public servants in a democracy, should they be surprised when people question their arbitrary claim of authority to do so?

    Not surprising their attempts to conceal have backfired. Most likely any attempt to prosecute Assange in the US will make him a martyr for the free press and free flow of information. Thank goodness some people recognize the possible damage to the US's int'l interests and "reputation" (which isn't good anyway)is far outweighed by the people's desire to choose whether or not to be governed by those claiming power, possibly fooling the people under the pretense of democracy.

     

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    Malcolm D B Munro, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 11:47am

    Wiikileaks has babies, one birth on Thur, second on Mon

    The genie is out of the bottle. Meanwhile the Europeans have been busy.

    Not only do we have 1880 or so mirror sites to Wikileaks, we now have Openleaks and Brusselsleaks.

    http://brusselsleaksdotcom

    See also

    http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2010/12/13/new-brussels-based-wikileaks-spin-off-to-ta rget-eu/

    and

    http://blogs.ft.com/brusselsblog/2010/12/brussels-leaks/

    This is all happening quickly and unfolding at great speed. Brusselsleaks is already overwhelmed at the response they are getting.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 11:48am

    Re: Re: Why is it stunning?

    Nothing new here. Remember....
    An actor as president, a comedian as senator.

     

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    Revelati, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 12:07pm

    Were gonna sue you! Were gonna sue you soooooo hard! You are so sued buddy, ohh so sued...

    The US government got pwned by a private, the missteps so far.

    1. This happened... Why does a private have access to the virtual entirety of classified diplomatic correspondence?

    2. Underestimating wikileaks. There was no attempt at negotiation, no attempt to work out some sort of deal to delay the posting of all this "lethal information" while the government got its "at risk operatives" out of harms way. The US just told wikileaks that they would be really really angry if they released this stuff and assumed that was all they had to do.

    3. Bi-polar response to the leaks. There are literally back to back press conferences where administration officials say that wikileaks is "endangering the lives of countless US operatives" only to have another talking head come forth and spew out 20 minutes later "the US will continue with business as usual, while embarrassing, the leaks will not significantly undermine US diplomatic efforts."
    Either our operatives being hunted down and slaughtered wholesale, "will not significantly undermine US diplomatic efforts" or more logically, "endangering the lives of countless US operatives" really means endangering the careers of corrupt and/or inept bureaucrats.

    4. The martyrdom of Julian Assange and attack on freedom of speech. Congratulations America, we gave him exactly what he wanted. I am ashamed to say that a paranoid, narcissistic, anarchist, who may or may not be fond of "surprise sex" has more credibility throughout the world than the US government. Not to mention that in the haste to accuse him of crimes that do not exist we have trampled over the core values of our society. No "creative prosecution" will stand up in court. I find it CRIMINAL, in its most base and disgusting sense, that the administration would poke and prod through the constitution to find a loophole that would allow them to prosecute someone for a crime that is not real.

     

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    Geof (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 12:13pm

    crade writes, "Some forms of influence are widely accepted. Press releases are influence, as is the police asking the press to hold off on a story so as not to hinder an investigation. Having to worry about following U.S. laws is a form of influence and pressure."

    If you're trying to understand the perspectives of non-Americans, American interests and laws are not a good starting point.

    You may think that these forms of U.S. are legitimate. In America such interventions are justified on the basis of national security. I'm Canadian. To "foreigners" like me attempts to impose American standards and law outside the U.S. appear illegitimate. American interests and the particulars of U.S. law are beside the point.

    I think the United States has no comprehension of what they have done. The extraordinary power of the U.S. has been legitimated on the basis of lofty ideals like democracy and freedom of speech. When the U.S. does something bad, this is explained as a failure to execute rather than malice. E.g., hundreds of thousands died in Iraq - but at least America had good intentions.

    The American response to WikiLeaks has shattered the basis for American legitimacy abroad. In the contest between its interests and its claimed ideals, the U.S. has decisively chosen hypocrisy. Mike talks as though the American reaction is a tactical error. I think most of the world sees it as revealing the true face of American power.

    Americans don’t get this because their starting point is American interests. Government elites there and elsewhere don’t get it because they had few illusions. But ordinary folks did. Check out the message boards on the CBC or the Globe and Mail, Canada’s main news sites. They are running 4 to 1 for WikiLeaks over the U.S. - or worse. They don’t want to be subjects of an empire. And this is *Canada*, where we feel strong kinship with the American people.

     

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    Fushta, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 12:25pm

    Misdirection at its Finest

    The .gov doesn't do anything except misdirect. Someone earlier mentioned that they are making a big deal about Wikileaks so no one will notice the content of the leak.

    I say it is even more than that. If you take everything .gov says as a lie, then it means these leaks are no big deal, and they are making a big deal for a reason. When a leak comes out in the future that really is harmful to the .gov, then expect them to remain hush about it.

    Therefore, no harm equals uproar, big harm equals hush.

     

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    Jay (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Why is it stunning?

    Al Franken signing on with the COICA wasn't funny.

     

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    crade (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 12:29pm

    Re:

    I'm Canadian as well. And I hold no illusions that we don't have many of the same influences on the press here.
    No matter where you are, influences on the press are a reality. If your newspaper is a business, you are reliant on public opinion. Politicians influence public opinion. The mere ability for them to choose who they speek to and voice their opinions on topics gives them influence over your bottom line.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 12:34pm

    Re:

    but... but... they stole our balloons!

     

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    Geof (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 12:44pm

    cade writes, "I'm Canadian as well. And I hold no illusions that we don't have many of the same influences on the press here."

    Heh. I feel a bit foolish, but my argument stands. What you say about Canada is of course absolutely true. I'm sure our government would react similarly if given the opportunity. In that case though, who but Canadians would care? The impact of this falls particularly hard on the U.S. (as it should) given its power and its claims of free speech.

    You are also correct about the strong influence of politics on the press. I read some research recently finding that politicians influence the press more than the other way around (unfortunately I'm not sure so can't check it or its broader validity).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 1:05pm

    Is this the makings of the i-Patriot Act..?

    Didn't Larry Lessig think this would happen a few years ago?

    http://boingboing.net/2008/08/05/lawrence-lessig-on-t.html

     

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    Headbhang (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 1:13pm

    Re: Re: Why is it stunning?

    Not quite, unfortunately. If they were, they would be making

     

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    Headbhang (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 1:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Why is it stunning?

     

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    Ben, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 1:15pm

    Dictatorships always react this way!

    One more example of where we're heading.

     

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    Ben, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 1:18pm

    Re: Misdirection at its Finest

    "no harm equals uproar, big harm equals hush."

    Man, I am applauding you, BRAVO! you hit it on the head!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Misdirection at its Finest

    You have a beginning.

    Now consider if the leaks were not really leaks but a means to convey information from the start much like the Nile RADAR images were a conveyance of US radar practicalities to the Soviets.

    The question is what is going on here? And, it is not obvious.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 1:53pm

    Trial?

    What trial? They don't need any laws or trials or anything like that. They can just pick him up and throw him in Gitmo for the rest of his life. Or, a federal court ruled recently that the President can order anybody, including even US citizens, assassinated by the military and there's nothing anyone, even the courts, can do about it.

    So what's all this worry about the difficulty of prosecuting Assange in court?

     

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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 2:13pm

    Re:

    If the US were to disappear Assange, they'd be making a huge mistake, as that would martyr Assange in one fell swoop, and that's probably the moment the big insurance file gets decrypted.

     

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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Dec 13th, 2010 @ 2:15pm

    Re:

    The shouting for Assange's head has done a lot of damage to the world view of the US, which already had taken a nose dive after the invasion of Iraq.

    The "Land of the Free" is starting to sound very hollow to the rest of the world. I know it does to me.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 2:20pm

    Ahhh Marcel, but then again you make it sound like anyone actually believed that here in the US, we really cared about the rest of the world beyond our own well being?

    Really, you think we support other countries because it is the right thing to do and not just in our own best interests? Does any country do that?

     

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    BruceLD, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 3:58pm

    Subject

    This whole thing kinda reminds me of 9/11 and the war on terror. "You fuck with us, we'll fuck you back even harder". Of course...we all know that the fucking happened.

    The result of all of this will be the same. They could have accomplished a lot by shrugging and just going about their business.

    But nope..that's the American government for you. They are free to waste taxpayer dollars even though the end result is; absolutely nothing is achieved and absolutely nothing has changed. In fact, the only results are things are much worse off now than before and further embarrassment is the final result.

    Stupid US government. Meh.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 5:45pm

    "You fuck with us, we'll fuck you back even harder"

    I have no problem with out govt. taking this position.

    What is the value of other countries perception that the US might just take you out if you screw up too much? Say what you want, but GWB had to worry quite a few governments out there knowing that they may be next.

    Of course, it doesn't work quite as well with countries like China or Russia, but it does have value with smaller countries.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2010 @ 7:34pm

    Re:

    Even with the smaller countries, when trying to strongarm everyone, you want to trick them into being conquered one at a time and not coming to each other's defense. If they all know you are just out to take them out one by one, they will likely band together and it will make it more of a pain in the butt.

     

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    bikey, Dec 14th, 2010 @ 5:52am

    The analogy to IP is a good one - the government blubbers about innovation and then does everything it can to stifle it upon the request of increasingly dead weight 'entertainment' industries. It blubbers about freedom of expression and transparency elsewhere and again goes out of its way to make sure it doesn't happen.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 14th, 2010 @ 6:48am

    "Yet again, I'm left noticing the similarities between the US government's reaction to Wikileaks and the entertainment industry's reaction to file sharing. Each move that it made, including going legal, backfired in a big, bad way. It's really quite stunning to watch the US government make the same mistakes."

    History always repeats itself, politicians always think they are right even when proven wrong, and SSDD.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    icon
    Paddy Duke (profile), Dec 14th, 2010 @ 11:01am

    Re: Trial?

    …the President can order anybody, including even US citizens, assassinated by the military…

    They are US officials. If a politician has the power to order anyone’s assassination it should be their own electorate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    icon
    Rose M. Welch (profile), Dec 14th, 2010 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The Times is, to an extent. The newspapers are publishing before WL does.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    icon
    Marcel de Jong (profile), Dec 16th, 2010 @ 3:18am

    Re: Wiikileaks has babies, one birth on Thur, second on Mon

    And there is www.opennu.nl for Dutch regional leaks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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