Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wikileaks Revisited

The most recent round of leaks provided by Wikileaks, labeled 'cablegate,' seems to have raised the ire of the American Government in a way previous leaks were apparently incapable of.  I find this odd when you consider that earlier this year they leaked a video detailing our massacre of a bunch of unarmed men and two reporters.  In contrast, the current controversy doesn't hold anything more damning than allowing us to discover that our diplomats behave like a bunch of twelve year olds behind closed doors.  This shouldn't be terribly surprising to the people of the country when our representatives in the US Senate act like four year olds.  Actually this should probably be considered good in comparison.  To go further we are of course ignoring the fact that if this had happened to another country we would be highly entertained and still only marginally interested in what they said about us.  It probably wouldn't even engender much of a mention from our local news organizations.

The big 'damning' allegation is that this release is a critique of American 'exceptional-ism', which is then touted around as an AH HA moment by the people that say it.  I can't express how much this argument is crap.  Exceptional is a label applied to a person or group by an outside person or group for consistently doing something amazing.  We are no longer doing anything amazing, and we no longer deserve that title; there's even rumors we are considering eliminating NSF funds that help keep us from drowning completely.  In the past we've been considered exceptional for a number of reasons, for example spanning our mastery of science to roundly crushing the single greatest evil humanity ever perpetuated upon itself.  Mixed in the middle was a corporate culture that put America first, built among the best of everything it manufactured and a research culture of doing the best work even when that involved expensive 'mad science' projects.  In general this bought us a ton of leeway as we were held up as the thing all other countries wanted to be.  A goal they took very seriously and we ignored entirely, to our detriment.  Instead we farmed out those things that made us larger than life to the cheapest bidder, engineering tax laws that encouraged an exodus from our soil of all the major tasks of our biggest companies.  On top of this we allowed them to suck up huge quantities of our countries capitol in the form of addressing our debt, as we dug a hole that will take decades to climb out of.  In short, we are no longer exceptional and we gain considerably in learning some humility at Wikileaks hands as it may help us start putting our feet in the direction towards being truly exceptional again instead of just insisting that we are.

A good start would be to acknowledge Wikileaks for what it is, a news organization built on the principles of a free and open press.  This puts them squarely under the roof we built for press organizations in the First Amendment to our constitution.  We as a nation have waged war on our own First Amendment but it has so far stood against the best battering we could come up with.  It can survive Wikileaks as well, as inconvenient as the organization may be to those in control.  In appreciation for our First, stop for a moment and consider what Wikileaks has said to those that feel the need or duty to release something others would rather not be public.  They've come forward with a simple premise of "Come to us and we'll release those things you aren't safe releasing yourself."  That is HUGE, I can't underscore how important that is, especially in the climate we find our-selves in with our standard media.  The fear of losing access to high powered politicians drives them away from doing anything more than barely scratching the surface of controversial topics, let alone dropping a bomb on the entire government in the form of embarrassing comments made by our foreign representatives.  Wikileaks doesn't have any such concern for access as it doesn't attempt to interview people for their opinions, it uses their deeds instead.

You don't have to go back terribly far to find an example of this being a massively important tool for the world.  Mentioned only as a footnote by much of our local media beyond a footnote, but it happened despite the blinders we allow to be place upon us, in 2007 a 76 page report describing 'extra judicial' executions of five hundred individuals(pdf link) by Kenyan police forces was released.  The executions were performed in such grotesque fashion that they could possibly qualify as a crime against humanity.  Reporters in the country were incapable of releasing the information without jeopardizing their own safety, as there was a strong chance of retaliation by the police.  Instead it was released to the world by Wikileaks, protecting the identity of the leaker to this day, making the Kenyan press feel safe enough to run the story themselves, which were done for an extended period of time before the general election.  The result being that all politicians named in the document were swept out of office in altering the course of an entire country.  The only people that would consider this an act of terrorism are those that are afraid of something similar happening to themselves and their careers, yet we have politicians calling on the US to classify this organization, a media outlet, as a terrorist organization.

This charge of terrorism is as flawed as it is fascinating.  To start, it's apparently begun to evolve into 'Information Terrorism' by those who initially bandied around Wikileaks being a terrorist organization in the same vein as Al Qaeda.  This re-branding effort highlights how bankrupt this position is to begin with, and represents a total failure to acknowledge two key points.  First, words have meanings.  And second, words have consequences.  Terrorism has a very specific meaning, especially in the hearts and minds of the American public.  It summons up images of two of our largest buildings and the thousands of people they housed daily plummeting to their doom or the explosive horrors visited on innocents by the likes of the UnaBomber and McVeigh or the Beltway Sniper random highway executions.  These are examples of terrorism, attacks on the public designed to alter policy decisions through the killing of innocents, to simply make a grotesque point, or, in the case of Al Qaeda, make a rallying call for the death of America.  This is not what Wikileaks is doing.  They are a press group that received documents from a leak source inside the US Government and are exposing those documents in editorialized format to the world.  It may be inconvenient or even annoying, but what it is at it's heart is a form of criticism.  And they have every right to criticize the US Government just like US Citizens, Press Local and Foreign, and citizens of other countries do every day.

The Blue Pill:
Wikileaks is an organization dedicated to ideals Americans claim to hold in high regard. Instead Americans are vilifying Wikileaks because it managed to embarrass us.  It is in many ways, quite literally the exemplar of an open and free press, even when the truth may be inconvenient for those it places in it's crosshairs.  We all need to wrap ourselves in some of that thick skin we use to deal with a thousand other sleights every day of the week both perceived and real.  The damage is done from the perspective of Wikileaks, so, if we want to fix things, we need to address it at the source.

The Red Pill:
The real root of this is, of course, a bit more complex.  Wikileaks is a demonstrable engine for good and openness in government and corporate worlds (they have ousted a number of fairly horrible corporations as well).  They are also simply the messenger of the truth, to really address this we need to address the source.  In this case, PFC Bradly Manning of the US Army stands accused of releasing the information in the cables as well as the information in the 'Collateral Murder' video earlier this year.  If you've stopped to think about what that video told us about the our war in Iraq (specifically that we had butchered 2 Reuters reporters, we knew we had done so and we denied it vigorously), then you can probably appreciate that we are better off for knowing this, as the deeds were carried out in our name.  Were the cables really necessary to leak? Probably not.  It would have been more appropriate to leak the details of the events leading to his disillusionment, for example the full details of the Iraqi citizens being arrested for effectively sedition after writing an expose asking where a bunch of money that was supposed to be used for improving the country went (since it apparently didn't go to improving the country).