Facts and myths in the WikiLeaks/Guardian saga
The decision of WikiLeaks to publish its full unredacted archive of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables online has led to an uproar in the media, with many including The Guardian and New York Times arguing that the move puts sources at risk. “Shining a light on 45 years of US ‘diplomacy’, it is time to open the archives forever,” said WikiLeaks in a tweet announcing the release of the unredacted cables. Since November 2010, WikiLeaks had released the cables, working in close collaboration with various media groups which filtered through the data to delete the names of sources.
Following are the excerpts from Glenn Greenwald’s column ‘Facts and myths in the WikiLeaks/Guardian saga’, published on Salon.com which takes into account the implications of the move.
A series of unintentional though negligent acts by multiple parties — WikiLeaks, The Guardian‘s investigative reporter David Leigh, and Open Leaks’ Daniel Domscheit-Berg — has resulted in the publication of all 251,287 diplomatic cables, in unredacted form, leaked last year to WikiLeaks (allegedly by Bradley Manning).
This incident is unfortunate in the extreme for multiple reasons: it’s possible that diplomatic sources identified in the cables (including whistleblowers and human rights activists) will be harmed; this will be used by enemies of transparency and WikiLeaks to disparage both and even fuel efforts to prosecute the group; it implicates a newspaper, The Guardian, that generally produces very good and responsible journalism; it likely increases political pressure to impose more severe punishment on Bradley Manning if he’s found guilty of having leaked these cables; and it will completely obscure the already-ignored, important revelations of serious wrongdoing from these documents. It’s a disaster from every angle. But as usual with any controversy involving WikiLeaks, there are numerous important points being willfully distorted that need clarification.
Let’s begin with the revelations that are being ignored and obscured by this controversy. Several days ago, WikiLeaks compiled a list of 30 significant revelations from the newly released cables, and that was when only a fraction of them had been published; there are surely many more now, including ones still undiscovered in the trove of documents (here’s just one example). The cable receiving the most attention thus far — first reported by John Glaser of Antiwar.com — details a “heinous war crime [by U.S forces] during a house raid in Iraq in 2006, wherein one man, four women, two children, and three infants were summarily executed” and their house thereafter blown up by a U.S. airstrike in order to destroy the evidence. Back in 2006, the incident was discussed in American papers as a mere unproven “allegation” (“Regardless of which account is correct . . “), and the U.S. military (as usual) cleared itself of any and all wrongdoing.
The accidental release of these unredacted cables will receive far more attention and more outrage than the extreme, deliberate wrongdoing these cables expose. That’s because many of those condemning WikiLeaks care nothing about harm to civilians as long as it’s done by the U.S. government and military; indeed, such acts are endemic to the American wars they routinely cheer on. What they actually hate is transparency and exposure of wrongdoing by their government; “risk to civilians” is just the pretext for attacking those, such as WikiLeaks, who bring that about.
Despite the fault fairly assigned to WikiLeaks, one point should be absolutely clear: there was nothing intentional about WikiLeaks’ publication of the cables in unredacted form. They ultimately had no choice. Ever since WikiLeaks was widely criticized (including by me) for publishing Afghan War documents without redacting the names of some sources (though much blame also lay with the U.S. Government for rebuffing its request for redaction advice), the group has been meticulous about protecting the identity of innocents.
What happened here was that their hand was forced by the reckless acts of The Guardian‘s Leigh and Domscheit-Berg. One key reason access to these unredacted cables was so widely distributed is that Leigh — in his December, 2010, book about the work he did with WikiLeaks — published the password to these files, which was given to him by Julian Assange to enable his reporting on the cables.
Leigh’s publication of the WikiLeaks password in his book thus enabled widespread access to the full set of cables. But the key point is this: even if Leigh believed that that particular password would no longer be valid, what possible point is there in publishing to the world the specific password used by WikiLeaks or divulging the types of passwords it uses to safeguard its data.