Why Wikileaks is good for democracy

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The US has been going in the wrong direction for years by classifying millions of documents as secrets. In countering that, Wikileaks has the potential to make transparency and accountability more robust in the US, writes Bill Quigley.

Since 9-11, the US government, through Presidents Bush and Obama, has increasingly told the US public that “state secrets” will not be shared with citizens. Candidate Obama pledged to reduce the use of state secrets, but President Obama continued the Bush tradition. The Courts and Congress and international allies have gone meekly along with the escalating secrecy demands of the US Executive.

By labelling tens of millions of documents secret, the US government has created a huge vacuum of information.

But information is the lifeblood of democracy. Information about government contributes to a healthy democracy. Transparency and accountability are essential elements of good government. Likewise, “a lack of government transparency and accountability undermines democracy and gives rise to cynicism and mistrust,” according to a 2008 Harris survey commissioned by the Association of Government Accountants.

Into the secrecy vacuum stepped Private Bradley Manning, who, according to the Associated Press, was able to defeat “Pentagon security systems using little more than a Lady Gaga CD and a portable computer memory stick”.

Manning apparently sent the information to Wikileaks – a non-profit media organisation, which specialises in publishing leaked information. Wikileaks in turn shared the documents to other media around the world including the New York Times and published much of it on its website.

Despite criminal investigations by the US and other governments, it is not clear that media organisations like Wikileaks can be prosecuted in the US in light of First Amendment. Recall that the First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Outraged politicians are claiming that the release of government information is the criminal equivalent of terrorism and puts innocent people’s lives at risk. Many of those same politicians authorised the modern equivalent of carpet bombing of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, the sacrifice of thousands of lives of soldiers and civilians, and drone assaults on civilian areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Their anger at a document dump, no matter how extensive, is more than a little suspect.

Everyone, including Wikileaks and the other media reporting the documents, hopes that no lives will be lost because of this. So far, that appears to be the case as McClatchey Newspapers reported 28 November 2010, that “US officials conceded that they have no evidence to date that the [prior] release of documents led to anyone’s death”.

The US has been going in the wrong direction for years by classifying millions of documents as secrets. Wikileaks and other media which report these so called secrets will embarrass people, yes. Wikileaks and other media will make leaders uncomfortable, yes. But embarrassment and discomfort are small prices to pay for a healthier democracy.

Wikileaks has the potential to make transparency and accountability more robust in the US. That is good for democracy.

Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. [email protected]

Source: Countercurrents.org

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1 COMMENT

  1. WHY WORRY ABOUT AMERICA
    wikileaks founder and the private are in the eyes of american heros, without a doubt.
    wehna reporter from a government is badly beaten up and abused by our police malaysia needs much LEAKS.
    Everybody knows the POLITICAL RHETORIC that comes out from our leaders.
    They are all the same. NO BODY GIVES A DAM
    they all become political leaders so that they can make a ton of money and send thier children overseas to study , invest in hotels and properties .
    we need wikilekas in malayswia when everything is a secret without any transperancy.
    MURDER is a secret…
    Buying submarines is TOP secret.
    DEATH in police custody is secret.
    How many more must die in vain.
    We have too many secrets , just too many.
    We the people too have a secret .
    Our secret is to make some changes .

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