Of all the spectacle surrounding the Wikileaks/Cablegate situation, nothing has proven to be more bizarre than the U.S. government's actions and policies concerning the continued classification of the leaked cables. One of its first efforts was its patented "escalating response"
, in which it first blocked off the Wikileaks site, followed by any site with the word Wikileaks in the title
and, when this didn't seem to be burying its employees' heads in the sand quickly enough, it reached out to various security firms to see if they could build some sort of Wikileaks filtering system for its computers.
Things turned even more surreal when lawyers for Guantanamo detainees were not allowed to view
leaked documents that had been published online by various news services. When is public information not truly "public?" Well, when it's "classified," of course. Had the principles not been currently fighting a legal battle in a U.S. court, they could have joined the rest of the U.S. (and the world) in reading and using these leaked documents.
In the business world, if a document is considered secret, it's commonly accepted that if it becomes public by other means, those with a contractual obligation not to discuss are now free from their obligations. This makes sense. Pretending that documents that are publicly available for all and which have been widely discussed in the press are not "public" doesn't make sense.
With a recently filed lawsuit against the State Department, the ACLU hopes to bring this legal catch-22 to its illogical conclusion and make publicly published documents officially
public. Andy Greenberg (Forbes) explains the ACLU's rationale
Given that all those memos have already been covered by the news media, why bother to declassify them anyway? "The point is to expose the legal fiction that the secrecy system rests on," says Ben Wizner, a staff attorney for the ACLU. "The government uses this formality of secrecy to avoid having to answer for real violations of the law."
Wizner says that keeping the documents classified makes them much more difficult to use in courts, for instance, and allows the government to avoid confirming their authenticity.
The files that WikiLeaks released on Guantanamo detainees in April, for example, can’t be used by the defense lawyers for those prisoners unless they’re viewed in a secure government facility. “Government employees can’t read the New York Times. When I go to court in a real lawsuit seeking to get compensation for a victim’s ordeal and hold people liable, I can’t use this information,” Wizner says.
This should prove to be an alternately infuriating and entertaining case. There's going to be a whole lot of circular reasoning in play, all of it under the pretense of protecting state secrets that everyone already knows. The sad part is that taxpayers will be footing the bill for the government's last-ditch attempt to close several barn doors, while warily keeping an eye on all the free-roaming horses.