Sometimes, accountability isn't fun

Opinion Zone,Jason Kuznicki

We've all heard the scary numbers.  The dire predictions.  The charges of espionage and even, absurdly, treason.  We've all heard that Wikileaks has made public more than a quarter million diplomatic cables -- and the organization has blood on its hands. Vital U.S. interests and contacts around the world are threatened; informers will be exposed, hunted down, and killed.

In other words, we've all been primed for a panic.   So here is probably the most important paragraph you're going to read about Wikileaks today:

WikiLeaks has posted to its website only 960 of the 251,297 diplomatic cables it has.  Almost every one of these cables was first published by one of its newspaper partners which are disclosing them (The Guardian, the NYT, El Pais, Le Monde, Der Speigel, etc.).  Moreover, the cables posted by WikiLeaks were not only first published by these newspapers, but contain the redactions applied by those papers to protect innocent people and otherwise minimize harm.

Don't believe it?  Check out the Wikileaks website yourself.  Outside the 960 cables given to the public -- with certain key names redacted -- the others were shown only to a few newspapers of record in some of the larger countries in the West.  Do you want to read them?  Too bad.  They haven't been made public.

Like many stories, there's a lot less here than meets the eye.  It's tempting to say that what we're seeing is not so much the end of secrecy, and even less the end of journalism.  We're seeing sheer professional jealousy in action.  Even in the digital age, it hurts to get scooped.  Thus Melissa Bell, writing for the Washington Post, gets personal, writing, "For a staunch supporter of full transparency, Assange is not very open about his own personal life."

Well.  As we've already seen, Wikileaks is neither demanding nor providing full transparency.  It's been self-censoring in an attempt -- apparently wasted -- to appease its critics.  Perhaps next time, it won't
bother with appeasement at all.  I'll have a hard time shedding a tear.

Decent societies give private individuals a pass on disclosure, because private individuals can almost never do the sort of harm that governments or big corporations can.  Entities like these, global in their power, often secretive, and often able to wreak great destruction, do not get a pass.  What they get is called accountability.  Sometimes, it's not fun to be accountable.

In a republic like ours, we citizens are the supervisors.  Public servants work for us, not the other way around.  It is our job to keep an eye on them, because our constitution declares that we're the bosses.  Journalists play a key role here, or at least they should.  Nowadays, they're too busy worrying about the personal life of Julian Assange.

But let's grant Bell's premise for a moment:  No one is allowed to demand government transparency unless they live their own lives under constant public scrutiny.  Happily, I know one such person.  Take it away, Ron Paul:

Re: Wikileaks- In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.

Exactly so. 

Still, pundits seem to be itching for a fight.  Mark Thiessen takes things a step further, as is his wont, and compares "this new cyber war" to the War on Terrorism.  Meaning, I have trouble not to infer, that torture might be on the table, as it already is for Thiessen in the War on Terrorism. Also, military invasion:

WikiLeaks... will seek refuge elsewhere on the Internet, setting up operations in nations where it believes it will receive protection. Governments that provide WikiLeaks with virtual safe havens should be told in no uncertain terms: "You are either with us, or you are with WikiLeaks." If they refuse to shut WikiLeaks down on their territory, action should be taken to drive WikiLeaks from those safe havens.

If we follow his advice, it could be the first and will probably be the only blood shed over Cablegate.  If you think hunting Osama bin Laden is tough, consider hunting down each of the now hundreds of Wikileaks mirrors.  Consider throttling the Internet itself to keep out dangerous knowledge, just as China is now doing.  And consider that we once prided ourselves on our transparency and our freedom of speech.


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