Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Assange: Free speech or anarchy?

I am undecided on Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Clearly, as he posted his bail, Michael Moore is not. I suppose from the perspective of a documentary film maker the jailing of a journalist on what may be trumped up charges, the issue of one of free speech and a free press. I, however, look at the issue through the much broader lens of the public interests. Through this lens, things get a little more cloudy.

At first, I was very supportive of Wikileaks, particularly after the opaque and highly secretive Bush administration routinely massaged and manipulated intelligence and information for partisan purposes with disastrous results. A few timely leaks might have averted war (or landed Assange in Gitmo). But the recent series of leaks has changed my view of Mr. Assange. At this point, he looks less and less like a populous folk hero and more and more like a mud slinger.

In one leaked cable, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton questioned Embassy staff on the state of mind of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, asking if her state of stress/emotion effected her decision making. But other than embarrassing the US and Ms. Clinton, what public service was rendered in releasing this cable? Likewise, embarrassing assessments of foreign leaders (Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd is a "control freak", German chancellor Angela Merkel is “risk averse and rarely creative”, French president Nicolas Sarkozy is “brilliant, impatient, undiplomatic, hard to predict, charming, innovative, and summit-prone.”). Is it not part of the job of the State Dept. to make assessments of foreign leaders for the President and diplomatic corps? What public service is accomplished in releasing these cables?

Why these releases bother me is that diplomacy is a much preferred approach to international relations than more coercive tools, such as the near omnipotent US military. Diplomacy requires that leaders are able to communicate efficiently and securely with their diplomatic staff without worrying that everything they say or write might end up in the papers. Some secrets support peace and democracy. In my mind, releasing this type of information makes the world a much more dangerous place for democracy. I would much rather have the US Dept. of State getting and giving current, frank and honest intelligence to support diplomacy than having Dick Cheney setting up a war room in the Pentagon to twist and spin stale, inaccurate and misleading "intelligence" from questionable, self serving sources.


saskboy said...

"on what may be trumped up charges"

It takes a LOT of neutrality, or naivete actually, to not decide that the sex-slander charges against Assange are trumped up.

It's also not Assange's fault that the cables were leaked, and the public's right to the truth is more important than the repairable trust between diplomats that their lies will be kept secret.

Anonymous said...

Let me help you out.


Anonymous said...

These leaks seem for the most part to be embarrassing at worst. If there were very serious breaches I suspect the US gov't could shut down the entire internet and/or corrupt all computers that try to access the files.

I would also guess that Assange is spending a fortune on legal counsel. Sooner or later he will slip.

If he lived in some other part of the world he'd already be "missing".

Jesse said...

Free speech doesn't really have anything to do with it; no one thinks you have a right to publish everything you can get your hands on. The question here is whether this material was appropriately leaked.

My thinking as of now is that it wasn't. Civil servants have an obligation to leak on matters which they consider to be of importance to the public, where a government is covering something up with no timeline for disclosure. Dumping every diplomatic cable doesn't qualify.

There's no reason we can't extend this reasoning from the leaker (who not a lot of people complaining about the rape charges seem to be worrying about overly much) to Assange; if there were cables that we needed to see, then those should have been released. The fact that he's threatening that he has Gitmo and other materials that haven't been released yet seems to me to give the lie to his claims.

saskboy said...

He should give up his Insurance file then Jesse? Without it, what other leverage does he have to keep his body unmurdered by the likes of Flanagan and his cohorts? Never mind they've already assassinated his character and are on the verge of making journalism a crime in the West of all places!

WikiLeaks hasn't released cables that haven't been published also by major newspapers. People who do not support WikiLeaks, are furthering anti-democratic forces.

CoteGauche said...

If Assange were exposing wrong doing I would support his right the free speech to the end. But all he is doing is throwing out embarrassing crap for the attention. He is to whistle blowers what tabloids are to news.

Shutting this jerk up furthers peace and democracy. I would rather have democratic states exercise effective and at times discrete diplomacy than the alternatives.