December 05, 2010

Wikileaks Commotion: Does It Have Legs?


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It is no exaggeration to say that the world media is abuzz about Wkileaks, the not-for-profit international organization that has been making public leaked information regarding a gamut of subjects from a list of censored films by Lebanon, to files about the Afghan war, the Iraqi war and now 250,000 US diplomatic cables involving 270 embassies.

Many remember the Pentagon papers that revealed clearly that the “Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance". Many more remember with sadness the tendency of the Ford Pinto to explode essentially because the management had deliberately undertaken a cost-benefit analysis that showed that the corporation would be better served by not upgrading a dangerous fuel system that has the tendency to explode. There are many such examples, real and imagined where documents hidden from the public were meant to mislead and or cover up negligence and even criminal activities.

The documents released by Wiki leaks in connection to the conduct/misconduct of war in Afghanistan and Iraq meet the above aim that public disclosure will shine a bright light on events and developments that were meant to deceive and even deny justice. But is this the case in the sensational revelations that have caused so much coverage, the world over, when Wiki leaks made public the contents of 250,000 US diplomatic cables from all over the world? Of course not.

These cables are in essence the private analysis of employees that were required to provide their employer in confidence their non public evaluation of events and political leaders. The other highly sensational and even inflammatory issue in these cables was the public disclosure of the private opinions of various government officials all over the world who met with and were urged to discuss in strict confidence their views regarding a large variety of matters that range from the Iranian nuclear standoff to the UK military performance in Afghanistan.

Many countries and possibly most have adopted the legal principle of privileged communications that prevents certain parties, say physicians, from testifying against their patients by making their privileged information public. Courts will not admit into evidence such information on the grounds that the patient/client is protected from having the doctor, the priest, her lawyer or her suppose use her words against her under any set of circumstances. Don’t you think that a politician should have just as much right to keep his views private if he chooses? We do have a very wide understanding when practically every single one of us either seeks advice in confidence or offers it with the expectation that the ideas will not be plastered across the internet screens all over the globe.

Nothing more than embarrassment of some will result from these leaks. No higher purpose will be served and no one’s welfare will be protected by their release. Their effects will be momentary at best, until the novelty and shock value of such revelations die out. What did anyone gain from the knowledge that the King of Bahrain spoke freely about his fears from a nuclear Iran or from the fact that some US analysts suspect that the Russian mafia might have infiltrated the highest level of the Russian government. Was it really unexpected to hear Elias Murr, the Lebanese Minister of Defense telling the US ambassador that the Lebanese army will not engage the Israelis if and when a war between them and Hezbollah is waged? Yes it is highly embarrassing for a defense minister to speak so openly about the impotency of his armed forces but should that be a surprise when the Lebanese army is underequipped, undertrained. It’s an army without ammunitions.


I am not suggesting that the media organizations should not have covered the leaks. It’s a news story and that is the sole rationale for their existence. Even Wiki leaks itself had to distribute the information once that information was given to it. All calls by some to prosecute and even assassinate Mr. Assange the Wiki leaks human face are deplorable but those that delivered the information to Wiki leaks should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law in this case. It is immensely important not to confuse the forest for the trees; private opinions given in confidence are not the same thing as conspiracies to defraud and cover-up illegal and criminal activities. And this too shall pass without any major repercussions. The leaks in question have been highly titillating and will cause lots of discomforts to the principals but no higher purpose will be served as a result of these essentially stolen private remarks opinions that were not meant for public consumption.

2 comments:

George said...

I'm conflicted about leaks like these. I do understand that secrecy is important in diplomacy, negotiations and in specific functions of government.

If laws are broken by govs then good-conscience individuals should leak the relevant information.

But, how about when the government lies? Is it a crime? How about if it's an opinion? Like, an assessment on a war that will never be won? Shouldn't the public know about it?

Govs want to keep as many secrets as possible from the public, but transparency is ultimately good for democracy.

ghassan karam said...

George,
Sorry for the late response. All the questions that you raise are legitimate and that is why there needs to be a distinction between leaks regarding a cover up, lies, crimes etc.. and leaks that are in essence private opinions that were given in confidence and that do not rise to the level of being more than private personal assessments.
So a high ranking Russian official tells the US ambassador to Moscow that he thinks that Putin is acting like a dictator. There is nothing new in this that is newsworthy. Once Wikileaks releases the name of this official then it in effect discourages other Russians from speaking freely to their American counterparts.
The same is truefor most of the revelations from the secret cables.None of them was material and all what they caused was embarrassment.