Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks is not a terrorist organization for crying out loud

Wikileaks is releasing around a quarter of a million diplomatic cables from the United States. A lot of people, mostly Republicans, definitely want something done about this . . .

I oppose, altogether, government secrecy. As such, the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, is nearly a hero of mine. He clearly agrees that secrecy stinks and has done something about it.

I don't think that government secrecy works. Government "secrets" are not generally very secret. Publicly available sources of information are almost always better than information gathered through secret means. This is the reason that science is very nearly totally transparent, it's the best way to improve the quality of information. This is true of all other fields, as well. So, hidden information is far, far more liable to be rife with errors and lies than publicly available information that can be robustly checked.

The criticism that is almost universally leveled against Assange and Wikileaks are these leaks threaten life. That's idiotic. What threatens people's lives are the often downright fucking insane foreign policy decisions of the US, not the person who reveals these foreign policy decisions. In the history of Wikileaks, not a single person has ever died because of the information released. When asked who has died because of the published leaks, a vast silence falls or, more commonly, a mindless rant against the person who dares ask for proof. (Which is kind of the elephant in the room -- proof. I am always suspicious of people who attack people who either have proof or who refuse to give proof, but so prostituted has our government become that the idea that proof is meaningful has been almost entirely erased. This disturbs me profoundly.)

These diplomatic cables are mostly just . . . very slightly embarrassing. They're private communications between diplomatic staff. Any country in the world that has a diplomatic staff can look at their own cables and they'll find the exact same kind of frankness. It's a total tempest in a teapot. Sure, a few egos are no doubt bruised but that's gonna be it.

Overwhelmingly, what we're finding out is these things are tedious. Is it a shocker that a lot of US-allied Arab leaders don't want to see Iran get nuclear weapons? No. Absolutely not. This has been publicly available information for years, now. Is it a surprise that Israel seriously thought about bombing the Iranian nuclear plant? No. It's not even surprising that Saudi Arabia has both urged the US to attack Iran while at the same time continued to support al-Qaida. Everything these documents say is either more or less irrelevant -- "Kim Jong Il is a flabby old chap" level nonsense -- or already known.

But you have people saying that Wikileaks is a terrorist organization. Terrorist organization . . . ? That's right. Publishing the truth makes a person a terrorist in the eyes of a disturbingly large number of Americans. Even though the information published ranges from the slightly embarrassing to the publicly available.

I think what's really going on here is that these leaks point out that the government lies. Oh, this is also no surprise to people who pay attention, but when you get it from the horse's mouth it does contextualize things. So, it was a big deal when some documents were leaked that demonstrate pretty clearly that the British government knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then continued to use the fear-mongering mushroom cloud argument. It's a big deal when these leaks demonstrate that the US knows that its troops are committing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan but do nothing about it. Our government gets away with a lot with the justification that, hey, we just don't known.

What Wikileaks documents provide is proof that they did know, that they do know, and they're lying to our faces. However, anyone who's been in a bitter argument when they're wrong has probably had the experience of inventing charges against their opponent then inflating them to distract from the truth while justifying one's actions. So, rather than looking at these leaks and going, "Hey, maybe we should clean up our act" what the government does, instead, is say, "They're TERRORISTS who are KILLING AMERICANS." Yeah, the charge is idiotic -- how can they be terrorists if there's no damage done to anyone and what is being revealed is, in truth, reasonably unremarkable? -- but they have a big pulpit from which to shout.

(This is particularly true because of the complaisant media. One of the big stories about this whole Wikileaks thing is that it isn't big news organizations that are breaking these stories, but a couple of guys with a website. A big story in this is that the multi-billion dollar news empires that control most news content are being repeatedly and savagely beaten to the punch by seven unfunded volunteers. Let's face it, news corporations suck. That's a big story, here, that you won't see the news talking about!)

They so shout and the pimps in the traditional news media repeat their shouts, acting as an amplifier, so instead of talking about how it's clear the government is really, really lying to us about what they do and what they know, we end up talking about how Wikileaks is or is not a terrorist organization. The diplomatic cables are mostly banal, except when they confirm how often the government lies to us, which should be the story. That and, y'know, why the big news corporations are time and again being scooped by part-time volunteers.

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