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December 30, 2010

The double standard on WikiLeaks

Here's a question. Suppose that a reporter for (say) the New York Times obtained top-secret documents from within North Korean government revealing its inner workings and secret deals and strategies. And let us assume (because I don't know) that, unlike the US, that country has no equivalent of the First Amendment but does have something like the Official Secrets Act that exists in England and some other countries that makes it a crime for anyone to disclose secret government information.

Would we condemn the reporter and the newspaper for publishing the secret documents and let the reporter be extradited to North Korea to be tried by them for violating their laws?

That's an easy one. The answer is no, and someone who merely gave such an option serious consideration would be treated with derision. Not only that, the reporter and the paper would be lauded for landing such a scoop and given all manner of awards, including the Pulitzer.

Here's another hypothetical. Suppose there were secret documents possessed by the Chinese government that showed that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were taking US policy actions in close consultation with the Chinese government that were advantageous to Chinese strategic goals but were telling the American people something else, and pretending to be following the will of the American people.

Wouldn't any American want to know that? Wouldn't Americans feel that they have a right to know if their political leaders are acting in the interests of foreign governments? That's another easy one. Of course they would.

The reason that I pose these two hypothetical questions is to show the double standard that is operating in the US government and media in their condemnations of WikiLeaks. The reason that WikiLeaks is being treated this way in the US is because people here feel that the US and its government have privileges that no other country or people have.

If we take off our blinkers and see the WikiLeaks revelations through the eyes of people in other countries, we see what a valuable purpose they serve. The cables revealed so far show that foreign governments have been lying to their own people in order to advance American interests. The cables reveal that the leaders of a lot of these countries are acting in the interests of the US rather than of their own people.

Here are some examples:

  • Although Britain publicly said that it would no longer keep US cluster bombs, and smugly signed an international treaty to that effect, they continued to do so, a further demonstration of that country's subservience to US.

  • The president of Yemen lied to his own people, telling them that it was his nation's armed forces that bombed them and not the US, in order to prevent people in his country being outraged at the violation of their sovereignty.

  • We learn how the Pakistan leadership secretly assured the US that they would pardon their murderous dictator Pervez Musharraf, a staunch US ally, although they were publicly talking of bringing him to justice.

  • The cables show that the British government is training a Bangladeshi 'police' force that is believed to be a death squad

  • As for the Middle East, Middle, Juan Cole lists the top ten revelations from the WIkiLeaks release.

In an op-ed in The Australian, Julian Assange writes about what he have already learned from the small sample of the latest releases about what governments around the world are doing in secret:

The US diplomatic cables reveal some startling facts:

  • The US asked its diplomats to steal personal human material and information from UN officials and human rights groups, including DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, credit card numbers, internet passwords and ID photos, in violation of international treaties. Presumably Australian UN diplomats may be targeted, too.
  • King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked the US to attack Iran.
  • Officials in Jordan and Bahrain want Iran's nuclear program stopped by any means available.
  • Britain's Iraq inquiry was fixed to protect "US interests".
  • Sweden is a covert member of NATO and US intelligence sharing is kept from parliament.
  • The US is playing hardball to get other countries to take freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama agreed to meet the Slovenian President only if Slovenia took a prisoner. Our Pacific neighbour Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to accept detainees.

For this reason, I suspect that WikiLeaks has far greater support among the general public in other countries than in the US. The reaction of the people in the US would be quite different if the cables revealed that Obama or Clinton were more interested in pleasing China than in advancing US goals.

In the British newspaper The Independent, Johann Hari informs us of what the leaks reveal about the conduct of the US wars and how WikiLeaks is performing an important public duty.

Every one of us owes a debt to Julian Assange. Thanks to him, we now know that our governments are pursuing policies that place you and your family in considerably greater danger. Wikileaks has informed us they have secretly launched war on yet another Muslim country, sanctioned torture, kidnapped innocent people from the streets of free countries and intimidated the police into hushing it up, and covered up the killing of 15,000 civilians – five times the number killed on 9/11. Each one of these acts has increased the number of jihadis. We can only change these policies if we know about them – and Assange has given us the black-and-white proof.

As I. F. Stone said, "Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed." The WikiLeaks revelations expose the lies of these governments. The transparency that WikiLeaks provides is essential if we are to keep governments accountable.

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Comments

Did you mean 'blinders' in the 7th paragraph?

Posted by henry on December 30, 2010 09:27 AM

Henry,

I wrote 'blinkers' unthinkingly because in English English (which is what I grew up with) it means the same thing as blinders.

Of course, since I am writing in America I should use American English with with words that are familiar here. Most of the time I make the transition, but with less common words I still slip up.

Posted by Mano Singham on December 30, 2010 09:42 AM