Politics

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
free speech, politics, reaction, wikileaks

Companies:
wikileaks



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.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Andrew, 13 Dec 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. 


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.