WikiLeaks Good For Free Society

DEC. 5, 2010

The response by pundits to the latest WikiLeaks classified-document dump has reminded me of a preacher who decries pornography, but who also insists on reading the dirty magazines page by page so that he can better understand the depth of the world’s depravity. If WikiLeaks’ actions were so wrong, why is there such widespread interest in these cables, often by the same people vociferously criticizing their release?

Clearly, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has done our nation a service by publishing at-times embarrassing accounts of how the U.S. government conducts its foreign policy. This is a government that claims to be of the people, by the people and for the people, and which has grand pretenses about projecting freedom worldwide, yet it wants to be able to keep most of the details of its actions away from the prying eyes of the public.

There’s no evidence that any information released will endanger anyone, and the U.S. government reportedly refused Assange’s request to work with him to scrub any names that could be compromised. Officials will always trot out the “endangering lives” or “protecting security” argument so they don’t have to reveal what they are doing, how they are doing it, or any misconduct or mistakes they have made while doing it. That’s human nature. I’m surprised by how readily most Americans, liberal and conservative, are content with allowing so much of their government to operate in secrecy, even though open government is the cornerstone of a free society.

Cablegate separates Americans into two categories. There are those who agree with our founders that government power is a corrupting force, so government officials need to be closely monitored. And there are those who have nearly blind trust in the public-spiritedness of those who run the bureaucracies and rule us.

Put me in category A, which is why I applaud WikiLeaks and its efforts to provide the information necessary so Americans can govern themselves in this supposedly self-governing society.

“How can the American system be regarded as participatory if the most potentially explosive government conduct is hidden?” writer Sheldon Richman asked in a Christian Science Monitor column. “Are ‘we the people’ really in charge or not?” That’s the question of the hour.

I’m most astounded that some journalists interviewed have been so half-hearted in their defense of Assange. Journalists know that government officials fight the release of virtually every piece of information, especially that which casts them in a less-than-favorable light. I’ve received police reports with nearly every word (other than “is,” “are” and “by”) redacted. I’ve had information requests dismissed and ignored, even for information that is unquestionably part of the public record.

Officials obfuscate and delay and then force the average citizen to go to court to get files that are supposed to be ours, as citizens. They know that few people can afford the legal fight, and there’s little cost for refusing to adhere to public records laws.

This is the nature of government. If it weren’t for anonymous sources and leaked information, the journalism business would serve as a press-release service for officialdom. We’re all better off because courageous people leak important documents to the media. That’s true even when leakers have a personal agenda in releasing the information.

The New York Times reports that the leaked diplomatic cables “contain a fresh American intelligence assessment of Iran’s missile program. They reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles.” That seems like useful information if we, the people, want to monitor our political leaders’ decisions about how to deal with those two rogue nations. No wonder Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined Republicans and Democrats in denouncing WikiLeaks.

We learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted to collect personal and financial information about foreign leaders, which gives the public valuable insight into this presidential hopeful’s view of civil liberties and personal privacy.

Even conservative writer Jonah Goldberg, who wondered why Assange hasn’t been “garroted in his hotel room” after the previous WikiLeaks release of documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan described U.S. forces shooting at a group that included civilians, found worthwhile information in the latest documents: “And what these documents confirm is that President Obama’s foreign policy is a mess.”

Despite that useful insight, Goldberg is still angry at Assange, who “is convinced that he has revealed the hypocrisy and corruption of U.S. foreign policy, when in reality all he has revealed is that pursuing foreign-policy ideals is messier and more complicated in a world where bad people pursue bad ends.”

The public is better off that we can debate Goldberg’s point, rather than remain in the dark about these matters.

Liberals have been as bad as conservatives in denouncing Assange as treasonous. This is not surprising, given how committed they are to a massive government that manages our lives.

Bill Anderson, writing for the libertarian Web site Lewrockwell.com, reminds readers that 19th century Americans largely embraced the view that “politicians were corrupt, governments generally wasted tax dollars and that elected officials could not be trusted.” The Progressive movement then came onto the scene to advance its reforms, by which a gifted intelligentsia would rule for the public good. Open government is anathema to such elite rule, as the public gets to see that the elites are mere human beings with all the same temptations and foibles as everybody else.

WikiLeaks has helped demystify the inner workings of our government, sparking a much-needed debate over various U.S. policies across the world and reminded Americans that free societies depend on an informed citizenry. And the disclosures even provided some levity, as we got to read some honest assessments of puffed-up world leaders. We should thank Assange rather than malign him, and we should eagerly await his next release.

–Steven Greenhut

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  1. Bruce
    Bruce 7 December, 2010, 16:41

    Steve,

    I’m with you about 85 percent here, but it’s funny you should mention the Founders. I’m reminded of the furor over the Jay Treaty, way back in 1796 or so. Here’s what George Washington wrote in denying the House of Representatives — an arm of the government — access to the equivalent of diplomatic cables:

    “The nature of foreign negotiations requires caution; and their success must often depend on secrecy: and even when brought to a conclusion, a full disclosure of all the measures, demands, or eventual concessions, which may have been proposed or contemplated, would be extremely impolitic: for this might have a pernicious influence on future negotiations; or produce immediate inconveniences, perhaps danger and mischief, in relation to other powers.”

    Me, I’ll take the leak every day. But there are sound reasons for diplomats to try to plug them.

    Reply this comment
  2. Bob
    Bob 4 January, 2011, 22:01

    I was someone would Wikileak our criminal class in Sacramento.

    Reply this comment

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