The Morality of Wikileaks
Wikileaks.org has done it again: This time a set of US diplomatic cables talking about countries and their leaders without mincing the words.
I picked up from the BBC website some of its content. It says things like :
"US officials are said to have described Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as feckless, vain and ineffective, sharing a close relationship with "alpha dog" Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is said to be thin-skinned and authoritarian, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel is described as risk-averse.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is referred to as "extremely weak" and susceptible to conspiracy theories.
Meanwhile, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya always travels with a "voluptuous blonde" Ukrainian nurse, according to one of the cables.
Concerns aired include the security of Pakistani nuclear material that could be used to make an atomic weapon, while the widespread use of computer hacking by China's government is also reported.
Other issues reportedly covered in the cables are:
• Iranian attempts to adapt North Korean rockets for use as long-range missiles
• Corruption in Afghanistan with concerns heightened when a senior official was found to be carrying more than $52m (£33m) in cash on a foreign trip
• Bargaining to empty the Guantanamo Bay prison camp - including Slovenian diplomats being told to take in a freed prisoner to secure a meeting with President Barack Obama
• Germany being warned in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for CIA officers involved in an operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was abducted and held in Afghanistan
• US officials being instructed to spy on the UN leadership by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime
• Yemen's president talking to General David Petraeus (while he was responsible for US military operations in Central Asia and the Middle East as head of US Central Command) about attacks on Yemeni al-Qaeda bases and saying: "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours"
• Faltering US attempts to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon"
(From BBC Website: For more go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11860435)
Most of it is not news, we already knew these. So, one would wonder what the fuss is about.
In context, I had to read the story of Clive Ponting, who I remembered for his Green History of the World, but most people in Britain remembers for the General Belgrano affair, where an Argentine Frigate was sunk by British submarines even when it was outside the zone of exclusion and was heading home. More than 300 people died in the attack. Margaret Thatcher, whose government took the decision to attack the ship, lied to the British Parliament about the exact position and intent of the ship, which was later revealed through the leaked documents obtained from Clive Ponting, then a Senior Civil Servant. In the aftermath, the government tried to prosecute Mr Ponting under the official secrets act, but dropped charges later on.
No such luck for US Army Private Bradley Manning, who has been already imprisoned for releasing US army videos showing civilians being shot at from Army Helicopters, and also allegedly, the current set of documents.
A question must be raised whether such leaks, doubtlessly facilitated by the new technologies of information and communication, is morally right: Indeed, one could clearly see that the governments are waging a sort of information warfare on its own citizen. Are the leaks any more wrong than the lies themselves? We have surely arrived at an age where we can, and do, demand more transparency from our businesses, public organizations and governments. However, some kind of imperial mindset still persists in the most democratic of all governments (which, by definition and popular consent, should be that of United States) and transparency and truth seriously threatens government power. If Alvin Toffler taught World Governments use information as a weapon, we are arriving at the age of its anti-dote: The age of democratic information. This will surely demand a re-look at our moral codes, and laws in time.