“If you want safety, peace, or justice work for competency, honesty, and transparency.”
Dr. Bill Corcoran
Politicians and commentators from across the country and across the aisle reacted worrisomely to the WikiLeaks cables released over the past months. From Congressman Peter King to the more legally nuanced position of Vice President Joe Biden, the word terrorism has been brought up in discussions of the actions of Assange & Co. Simply put: the American reaction to WikiLeaks tells the world more about America than the cables have. That reaction has been a dangerous one.
1. Public Diplomacy
In general, Americans would like the world to view America as an ethical entity. Our foreign policy generally supports governments we feel are controlled by The People and the democratic peace theory is often a core assumption of our foreign policy. Recently the Obama Administration praised Google for standing up to China by refusing to censor search results. Several years ago the Bush administration condemned China’s treatment of political dissidents. After all, the President of the United States is the ‘Leader of the Free World’.
Despite this, America’s collective national knee-jerk reaction to WikiLeaks was to yell ‘terrorist!’ and to have the site shut down, as evidenced by reactions of Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard, etc. In terms of maintaining trusting relationships, honesty and staying true to one’s values are best practices. This goes for personal relationships and inter-governmental relationships alike. How America’s public and private sectors react to journalists show the world what America values. We as a people can’t condemn China for silencing whistleblowers and dissidents when our own corporations and politicians are trying to stamp them out as well. We must realize that if we wish the world to value openness in governance, we too must value it.
2. Civil Liberties
The labeling of WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization is worrying. WikiLeaks has simply published material, the veracity of which the government has not denied, against the interest and wishes of the government. It’s true that material has been classified, but the simple fact that no actually crucial or important security information has been leaked is proof that this material was not deserving of such a designation in a government of The People. If a legal case against WikiLeaks were to be successful, no organization or individual would publish leaked material, denying citizens that rare glimpse into a government that is supposedly run by them.
The 1st Amendment to our constitution reads, in part, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." While that right has never been absolute, the language of the text and the case law which has followed hold high the burden on the government when attempting to act against journalism. This is partially because journalism and whistleblowing like WikiLeaks is actually a social benefit. Democracy only works in the world of perfect information: every voter has all the information he/she needs to make the best choice in the voting booth. However, without things like the Pentagon Papers or WikiLeaks, voters would have little knowledge of what the government is doing. Thus, there needs to be a vocal critic of the government, ready to report mistakes and to publish information otherwise unavailable to voters.
We as a people should condemn the actions and statements of our politicians and corporations as attempts to silence a legitimate whistleblower. Our government and our people must apply the principles of our founding to be viewed legitimately abroad and to protect our liberties at home.