Wise up about Wikileaks

Politicians must learn that openness is fundamental to democracy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the latest Wikileaks/Bradley Manning revelations “very irresponsible, thoughtless acts that put at risk the lives of innocent people all over the world.” Mike Huckabee stated that anything less than execution is too kind a penalty. Sarah Palin said of Julian Assange, the front-man of the Wikileaks ensemble, “He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands ... Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

This past summer I wrote to The Tech with my thoughts on the release, encouraging MIT students to be careful with supporting Bradley Manning or Julian Assange. I was skeptical of Assange’s motives and abilities to handle the job of truth’s caretaker. I saw many people who I felt were missing the point and who took sides without properly understanding the issue.

I feel that way again, though not for the same reason. Now, I’m suddenly bemused at the reaction both from the Democrats and the Conservative peanut gallery, who have rallied to condemn both Manning and Assange, and somehow compare the pair to terrorists.

Don’t get me wrong; I get the whole ‘putting people’s lives at risk’ thing. The first leak, which was too undiscerning in redacting the names of informants in Afghanistan, seemed the most imprudent. It’s only now, after the latest release — which seems to have much more diplomatic bickering and much fewer strategy reports — that the anti-Wikileaks fervor is galvanized. Only now is Wikileaks having its servers pulled and Paypal account dropped. Only now do Clinton, Huckabee, and Palin seem to care.

But if Julian Assange and Bradley Manning weren’t going to release this information, who was? How can we expect the American public to be able to informedly vote for elected officials if it has no idea what’s going on? If the threat of an ascendent Iran is grave enough to unite America, the Arabs, and Israel, shouldn’t the American public know that before they cast their ballots? Shouldn’t we get to decide whether or not our country cooperates with tyrants, or appeases degenerates? At the very least, let us know every four years, before elections are coming up.

And that is the true value of Wikileaks. The success of democracy depends on all parties involved being well-informed. If the U.S. government deliberately prevents the distribution of information that concerns who we, as citizens, should be electing to public office, it’s hard to blame us, the citizens, for electing idiots time and time again. Or perhaps their plan was simply to cut the American public out of the process entirely. And a poor democracy that would be indeed.

In this controversy there is an apt lesson for the politicians of today: there will be more leaks in the future, but citizens needs to know what is going on from the government directly. We need that information to vote, to do business, to know when to talk and when to fight. Reporters can only get so much out of interviews and press conferences. Former Wikileaks employee Daniel Dormscheit-Berg has left his former employer and plans to start a new incarnation of Wikileaks, sans dictatorial Assange-style leadership. But it would seem that Wikileaks is learning from its mistakes. Our elected officials and arm-chair pundits would do well to do the same.