Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why I'm Proud of the Whole Wikileaks Affair

I’ll get to the title at the end, so hold off your anger for bit as I explain what’s behind my thinking on this matter.
As Americans I think it is easy to take for granted our right of free press. Enshrined in the first amendment alongside freedom of religion and the freedom to assemble the rights of free speech and press in many ways define what being an American is. These rights do not by any means imply that the government has to tell us everything or even anything. But they do mean that we can say what it is we wish to say, this is a powerful and largely irritating right we simply could not exist without.
Think about it, what we are doing right here and now cannot be done all over the world. Every step in the process of creating one of these blog posts (from reading a provocative news article to anonymously posting our own opinion online) is somehow restricted in most of the world.
In much of Latin America journalists have survived fighting their governments for a free press only to be restricted by organized crime syndicates attempting (and often succeeding) in scaring journalists into self-executed censorship.
The Blogfather of Iran, Hossein Derakhshan, was sentenced a month ago to 20 years in jail for his past criticisms of the government, allegedly supporting Iran’s enemies and insulting Islam. Despite his more recent turn to defending the Ahmadinejad government the blogger was nabbed by authorities in 2008 and is unlikely to be released any time soon.
In China, freedom of press is enshrined in the constitution, but never does a news story or book goes to press without the censor’s hand touching it. Recently a former defense official asked a provoking question:
How would Marx have coped with the restrictions on civil liberties evident in China today? He would have needed government permission to publish his Communist Manifesto, and this would have been refused.
“You say our capitalist system will disappear!” Mr Xin imagined priggish 19th-century English censors exclaiming. “You can’t say that!”
Freedom of speech is irksome, especially if someone you disagree with has a loud and/or irritating voice. (à mon avis, Christine O’Donnell)
Or if the message is offensive and reprehensible (for example, the Westboro Baptist Church folks, they’re downright despicable and I’m quite ashamed to share a species with them)
But regardless, in this country freedom of speech has become one of our core and defining values, something we seek to hold on to. We criticize other parts of the world for not being able to stand up to our standard. But freedom of speech has to, for lack of a better pun, find its own voice. You cannot tell someone to speak freely, that would rather defeat the purpose. We also cannot instruct others as to what is right to say. This means accepting criticism from around the world, grateful for the saying though maybe irritated by the words.
In countries with oppressive regimes the sound of dissidents on paper or on the Internet is the prelude to dissidents on the street, or so such regimes seem to feel. So perhaps it is best for us (and by association the world as well) to challenge governments to stand before the flames of public opinion and like us, be forged in surviving. 


This cartoon comes from and is attributed to Paresh Nath, The Khaleej Times, UAE. So, I’m not the only one struck by how not new this piece of news is.
 This is of course, about Wikileaks. I browsed through the documents for a few minutes and didn’t see much that I hadn’t already heard or read elsewhere. Civilians die in wars (really?!) Militaries purposefully downplay “advanced interrogation” (wow, never knew that!) The government doesn’t tell us everything (WHAT?!)
To be serious, I don’t know enough about what the Wikileaks leaked to get upset by it. I agree with the previous poster – RoareeTheLion – that aside from embarrassment the leaks do not change the game in Iraq. These leaks pale in comparison to the Pentagon Papers, which did contain information the public previous had not known. Though, like the Pentagon papers, these leaks are now part of the record of a long, complex conflict. They make historians happy and soldiers less so. But unlike the Pentagon Papers I do not see students in 2050 buying copies of “The Wikileaks” in a History of the Iraq War survey course. They simply aren’t that important in the grand scheme.
Get mad at the New York Times for dedicating a page to the Wikileaks if it makes you feel better. But they are doing their job, displaying information for the public to peruse. Freedom of press allows them to do it and perhaps they should. If anyone is to be the target of anger find the guy who leaked the documents first, Bradley Manning, and yell at him a bit. He did steal classified documents, that's not right by any measure. But even then, I do not see what is so radical about the information in the leaks and I find claims that they endanger American soldiers to be overblown. Everything I’ve read so far that comes from Wikileaks merely puts in military jargon information already publicized or speculated in one format or another.
So chill out.
Such an event anywhere else in the world would have been riotous. Even though the pieces of information confirmed and restated by Wikileaks are decidedly not things to thump our chests in pride over, the banality of the whole affair is. This is why I'm proud of the Wikileaks leak, I'm proud of the fact that such information can be shared and while enrages some for this and that reason, people are not burning down the Pentagon or storming the steps of Congress (despite the fact no one is there at the moment).
Hate the Wikileaks, but be proud of your nation and its values. I am.


Dotty Hoddy said...

While i agree with your comments on the aspect of freedom of speech with regards to Wikileaks, i have to point out two things:

1) the military does not do a good job of classification of information. most of the operational information in a deployed theater is sent out via sipr - the secret internet and contains lots of unclassified information, so in one sense, the wikileaks are going to contain much of that information that is migrated from the unclassified systems. junior enlisted (E4 and below) do not classify information - that is left to an original classification authority and that person must put a declassification date on the pages, as well as information of who can view the information , i.e, //USA/REL UK, CAN// etc.

there is a lot of classified information that really should be labeled unclassified, but someone doesn't want to parse through all the information to separate each section. sometimes, it is the compilation of various pieces of unclassified information that makes a document classified.

2) information is classified to protect the source of information. it is this aspect that could be exploited from information found in the material Wikileaks is posting that is troubling. for those people who we turn against their country, the "spies", the postings endanger their life. is it worth "freedom of speech" and the right to know all if it kills people around the world who risked their lives to gain the information because they believed in liberty or freedom of speech for their country?

in WWII, OPSEC, or Operational Security, was tightly controlled, and Soldiers and civilians in government work respected the limit to freedom of speech and the "right" to know all. those women involved in Operation Purple, who translated the Japanese transmission from Two Rocks, California, didn't even know why or for what purpose they translated information. No one was told where the information ended up and no one knew that the information they passed on was used to capture island after island int he Pacific from the Japanese. The women were under strict orders to not even talk to their bunkmate about the job they did...and we won the war in the Pacific.

I wonder today, if the media played by the military's rules (i.e., Geraldo) and broadcasted propoganda, and the government enforced OPSEC within Congress, government entities, as well as the media, how much shorter these wars could have been.

Freedom of Speech isn't just an American right...why don't we try to preserve that freedom for those who are exercising it overseas and risking their lives to do so.

Dotty Hoddy said...
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Dotty Hoddy said...
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Cassandra said...

I would agree Dotty Hoddy, that the military must do a better job of classifying things. It's difficult to cry foul and get upset about the leaking of "classified" information that isn't really or has no reason to be classified in the first place.

I had not thought about the sources of information, thank you for bring it up. I understand it could be dangerous to a source to have such information published. I did not equate free speech with a right to know all. I do not believe that we should know absolutely everything the government does as it does them. That makes it impossible to make difficult decisions and see them carried out to good ends. But the Wikileaks information is still mostly information previously available, nothing earth shatteringly new except maybe deeper confirmation of suspicions. The government should tighten where the leaks came from, should go after those who did spill the beans. But once information is in the public sphere free speech takes over for me.

I am not a fan of advocating that the government turn to propaganda to speed up wars. That's something I'd consider unamerican on the whole. We do not have a right to know all, but neither should the government restrict our right to speak freely.

And lastly, certainly freedom of speech is a human right as much as anything else. I do not think I was advocating it as uniquely American. We should certainly be supporting those who utilize this right overseas. But that isn't what we're doing currently in our wars. Whether we have justification or not, the rationale behind the Iraq and Afghan wars is not defending the rights of free speech. If we went to war to do so we'd bomb China, North Korea and we'd take a serious and aggressive stance against drug cartels in Latin America.

That all being said, thank you for your comments.