2010-12-12 Cablegate: Journalists in defence of WikiLeaks part 11

The Washington Post editorial: Don't charge WikiLeaks

"Such prosecutions are a bad idea. The government has no business indicting someone who is not a spy and who is not legally bound to keep its secrets. Doing so would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations that vet and verify material and take seriously the protection of sources and methods when lives or national security are endangered. The Espionage Act is easily abused, as shown by a criminal case that dragged on for years, before being closed last year, of two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who did nothing more than pass along to colleagues and a reporter information they gleaned from conversations with U.S. officials. The act should be scrapped or tightened, not given new and dangerous life."
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Sydney Morning Herald editorial: Julian Assange and the public's right to know

"Men such as Ellsberg and Assange, who are prepared to face the consequences of revealing information authorities would prefer to hide, help keep our system of government healthy and strong. Unfortunately, those in power tend to take a different view. The 250,000 confidential American diplomatic cables are the latest documents published by WikiLeaks. Previous documents on WikiLeaks have exposed how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been fought. These leaks have been embarrassing to the governments involved - particularly the US government.[...]

WikiLeaks, acting with newspapers around the world including The Age and The Sunday Age, is publishing information that makes governments uncomfortable. This action affirms the role of the media, which have a duty to expose the secret machinations of those who wield power. In the US, the chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, Joe Lieberman, has suggested that because it published some of the leaked information The New York Times might be subject to criminal investigation. This would breach the First Amendment protecting freedom of the press.

The Australian government's condemnation of WikiLeaks is also deeply troubling. Attempts to silence Mr Assange and those who work with him threaten the free flow of information that makes democracy possible. Such attempts are dangerous and must be resisted."
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The Nation editorial: First, They Came for WikiLeaks. Then...

"As a magazine that champions free speech, The Nation defends the rights of leakers and media organizations to disclose secrets that advance a public interest without fear of retribution — or murder. If the Justice Department goes after Assange as an enemy of the state, what's next? The arrest of the editors of the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País, the news outlets that collaborated with WikiLeaks?

By and large WikiLeaks has come to embrace the ethics that guide traditional news organizations' disclosure of secrets, and it should be afforded the same protections.[...]

What's really at stake here is not individual privacy, the safety of sources or America's diplomatic leverage — it's the secret state. Over the past decade, our leaders have come to see secrecy as a casual right instead of a rare privilege. The cables released so far illustrate this corruption: routine, even banal, matters of diplomatic correspondence are labeled "NOFORN" (not for release to foreign nationals), "Confidential" or "Secret."

Beyond revealing the unprecedented scale of secrecy, WikiLeaks has also brought to light the antidemocratic actions secrecy protects. In Yemen, for example, the United States conducted secret airstrikes on suspected Al Qaeda targets, then conspired with Yemeni leaders to pretend that Yemen's military had done it (see Jeremy Scahill, "WikiLeaking Covert Wars," in this issue). Here is an instance where America's standing in the world was put at risk. But it's not WikiLeaks that did it. It's the policy of covert action and the lies told to cover it up."
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Javier Moreno, editor-in-chief, País: WikiLeaks cables had a huge impact in Spain

"The impact within Spain and in Latin America has been huge. This has been especially so in Spain, because of our four-part series on the national court, looking at some high-profile cases in which the US embassy in Madrid has tried to influence judges, the government, and prosecutors in cases involving US citizens. One involved a detainee in Guantánamo, another covered secret rendition flights in Spain, and another was about the murder of a Spanish journalist by US fire in Baghdad.

The last was the most complicated because the cables revealed the double speak of government and prosecutors. Our stories showed that they told US diplomats they would try to hinder or even close down the case while telling the family of the dead journalist that they would do everything they could to advance it. This has been difficult for the Socialist government to explain.[...]

All in all, it's been the biggest story I've had in my five years as editor of El País, without any doubt. And measured by its international impact, it's probably the biggest story this newspaper has ever been involved with."
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Henry Porter, The Observer: WikiLeaks may make the powerful howl, but we are learning the truth

"I have lost count of the politicians and opinion formers of an authoritarian bent warning of the dreadful damage done by the WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables, and in the very next breath dismissing the content as frivolous tittle-tattle. To seek simultaneous advantage from opposing arguments is not a new gambit, but to be wrong in both is quite an achievement.

Publication of the cables has caused no loss of life; troops are not being mobilised; and the only real diplomatic crisis is merely one of discomfort. The idea that the past two weeks have been a disaster is self-evidently preposterous. Yet the leaks are of unprecedented importance because, at a stroke, they have enlightened the masses about what is being done in their name and have shown the corruption, incompetence – and sometimes wisdom – of our politicians, corporations and diplomats. More significantly, we have been given a snapshot of the world as it is, rather than the edited account agreed upon by diverse elites, whose only common interest is the maintenance of their power and our ignorance."
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Suelette Dreyfus, Sydney Morning Herald: The geek who shook the world

"If you want to improve the lot of the poorest, most oppressed people in the world, you can go to a destitute, corrupt African country and work in a community-aid program. It is a noble and self-sacrificing choice. But it only saves one village. Therefore, although it works towards greater justice (in this case economic justice) it is not optimal. A computer geek would consider it sub-optimal. To be optimal, it must be on a much larger scale. Larger than one village, larger than one country, even than one continent. The only way to do that is to use information which can be replicated endlessly – and cheaply – to promote change for the better. But it must be good information, not trashy information or PR spin. It must be the kind of information that plucks at those little threads of curiousity we all have in one measure or another.

It must be the kind of information news media organisations would publish for their readers.[...]

In person, Assange is remarkably calm. He is sometimes dedicated to the cause of free speech in a pointed way that that affronts Americans, which is surprising, really, given their dedication to the right of free speech.

What matters is that WikiLeaks is changing the balance of power between average citizens and their governments like nothing else has this century. For the past decade the pendulum has swung towards government. WikiLeaks is pulling the pendulum back towards towards the citizens."
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Manuel Castells, La Vanguardia: The WikiLeaks cyberwar

"As documented in my book 'Communication and Power,' power resides in the control of communication. The hysterical reaction of the U.S. and other governments against Wikileaks confirms it. We are entering a new phase of political communication. Not so much because it reveals secrets or gossip, but because it is broadcast on a channel that is beyond the reach of the power controls.[...]

Security is not at stake for the states (nothing in the revelations endangers world peace). At issue is the right of citizens to know what their leaders do and think. And the freedom of information in the new conditions of the Internet era. As Hillary Clinton said in her statement of January 2010: "The Internet infrastructure is iconic of our time ... As in the dictatorships of the past, some governments aim against independent thinkers who use these tools. " Do you apply that reflection to yourself, now?

Because the key issue is that governments can spy, legally or illegally, on their citizens. But citizens are not entitled to information about those acting on its behalf except in the censored version that governments provide. In this great debate are going to take sides the self-proclaimed free communication platforms of internet companies and traditional media so jealous of their freedom. Cyberwar has started. Not a cyberwar between states as expected, but between states and the internet civil society. Governments may never again be confident that they can keep their citizens in ignorance of their dealings. Because as long as there are people willing to provide leaks and an internet populated by wikis, new generations of Wikileaks will emerge."
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Jemima Khan, The Guardian: Why did I back Julian Assange? It's about justice and fairness

"I was there because I believe that this is about censorship and intimidation. The timing of these rehashed allegations is highly suspicious, coinciding with the recent WikiLeaks revelations and reinvigorated by a rightwing Swedish politician. There are credible rumours that this is a holding charge while an indictment is being sought in secret for his arrest and extradition to the US. An accusation of rape is the ultimate gag. Until proved otherwise, Assange has done nothing illegal, yet he is behind bars.

There is a fundamental injustice here. There are calls for the punishment (execution even) of the man who has reported war crimes, but not for those that perpetrated or sanctioned them.[...]

If WikiLeaks is a terrorist organisation, as New York congressman Pete King stated, and if its founder, Julian Assange, is prosecuted for espionage, the future of investigative journalism everywhere is in jeopardy, as is our right as citizens to be told the truth."
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Míriam Leitão, O Globo: The Sphinx

"Everything is intense in relation to Wikileaks. There are many questions, some still unanswered. But the answers will come. WikiLeaks is a form of journalism, has subsidized the press with documents that can not fail to be published, and in this respect, also became a source.[...] But that does not replace not relieve the press of its responsibility.[...]

What is scary about the Wikileaks case are the threats made by the US government, which has always prided itself on its First Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing the right to information, and the mobilization of the apparatus that formed to prosecute Julian Assange. The pretext seems to be sexual allegations. And a pretext it is."
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Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy: Should Bob Woodward be arrested?

"I keep thinking about the Wikileaks affair, and I keep seeing the double-standards multiplying. Given how frequently government officials leak classified information in order to make themselves look good, box in their bureaucratic rivals, or tie the President's hands, it seems a little disingenuous of them to be so upset by Assange's activities.[...]

And I suspect it mostly comes down to this. Elites like the idea of being in charge, and they don't really trust "the people" in whose name they govern, even though it is the latter that pays their salaries, and fights their wars.[...] Their view of the public's right to information is akin to the view expressed by Col. Nathan Jessep (memorably played by Jack Nicholson) in the film A Few Good Men. When defense attorney Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) says "I want the truth!," Jessep retorts: "You can't handle the truth!" Unless, of course, it is filtered by establishment journalists like Woodward, and not by some unsympathetic upstart like Assange."
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Scott Horton, Harper's: Knowing a terrorist when you see one

"The Secretary of State does not have carte blanche in this process. To qualify as an FTO, an organization must have been engaged in “terrorist activity” or “terrorism,” which are defined to include multiple acts of violence threatening U.S. persons or the national security of the United States. An organization cannot plausibly qualify as a “terrorist organization” simply by publishing documents that embarrass the government or particular politicians.

Pete King’s idea, though, is hardly original. Over the last decade the world has witnessed an explosion of cases in which the term “terrorist” has been applied to domestic political adversaries, journalists, lawyers, and others who present governments and hyperventilating politicians with unpleasant facts.[...]

A government’s determination that its critics or political adversaries are “terrorists” must be subject to review by courts on the facts involving objective criteria. And the media and the public must be on the guard against political rhetoric that seeks to turn the concept of “terrorist organization” into a weapon against democracy itself."
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Medb Ruane, The Irish Independent: Where's the democracy in hunting Wikileaks off the Net?

"In January, Hillary Clinton celebrated the power of new technologies to challenge tyrants. Speaking soon after China's alleged cyber attack on Google, the US Secretary of State championed the internet as "the iconic infrastructure of our age" and warned about attempts to target "independent thinkers who use these tools".[...]

Clinton had clearly intended her remarks about targeting independent thinkers to be heard by repressive regimes outside the United States. Sadly, her own administration risks being counted as an offender.[...]

Hunting Assange off the Net serves no one except opponents of democracy. I don't know what precise balance can be struck between greater accountability and securing legitimate interests, between respecting classified sources and honouring freedom of expression. But there's something craven in the way online servers have capitulated to who-knows-what pressure behind the scenes.

Should there be a global convention? Who would negotiate it, if stakeholders got together? Silencing WikiLeaks and its tools forever would cripple this 'iconic infrastructure' at the ankles, something like those flat-earth proponents who tried to stop sailors crossing the Atlantic because they believed there was nothing on the other side. A brave new world will be lost if boundaries aren't set."
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