I support what WikiLeaks is doing. In the words of Assange, ‘an organisation for the promotion of justice through transparency.’ But there are some sticky issues.
Here’s a part of an interview Assange gave to BBC Today’s John Humphrys when the latter asked him about the allegations about sexual misconduct in Sweden:
Assange: I have always tried in this case and my other dealings to be a private person and not to speak about matters that are private.
Humphrys: This is now public. So, I’m asking you, did you have sex with those women?
Assange: Well, it’s a matter of public record as far as record is concerned. But I’m not going to be exposing other people’s private lives or my own more than is absolutely necessary.
Funny words coming from a man who deemed it fit to release cables that described various world figures as in less than flattering terms.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “avoids risk and is seldom creative” (That should make her cooperate more willingly)
- North Koreans: “spoilt children” (Yes, aggravate them more. Who gives a fuck about Seoul anyway?) All they’ve done is shelled some island and developed a Uranium enrichment plant, poor things!
- Abu Dhabi’s Prince says of Iran’s Ahmedinejad: “Ahmedinejad is Hitler” (Now Iran has dropped its nuclear programme and they are best friends thanks to wholesome honesty)
- Was it the Ukrainian nurse (how ironic!), the “voluptuous blonde”? Yes, what justice was that about?
Diplomacy is a tricky issue. It uses language with to resolve or aggravate conflicts. It is delicate, deliberate, constructed and a tightrope walk in the best of times. How exactly is justice promoted by leaking these cables that have chit-chat and diplomatic gossip? If anything, they press the diplomatic establishment to go into fire-fighting mode and save more damage from being done. These cables have the potential to sour healthy ties just because someone spoke her mind in assumed confidentiality.
There is another point, best articulated by what Richard Nixon said in his address to the nation on April 29, 1974 after Watergate: “But the problem I confronted was this: Unless a President can protect the privacy of the advice he gets, he cannot get the advice he needs.” Later he adds: “Never before in the history of the Presidency have records that are so private been made so public.” But that was the ‘70s.
Assange justifies the releases on BBC Today saying something like ‘maybe it is time diplomats committed to paper only things they were proud of.’ That’s a lame black-and-white argument. I thought we learned to see the greys after puberty, but that doesn’t seem the case here. Making people afraid of stating honest opinion in private for the fear of public scrutiny doesn’t serve the lofty purpose of justice WikiLeaks pursues. Even judges and juries have closed conference. It is what is needed at times.
Truth is, not all ‘secrets’ are worth revealing. Not everything that is said in private necessarily results in greater common good in the public domain. Sometimes, the results might be the exact opposite. Some of the cables leaked are sensational, and nothing else.
In the larger context of conflict resolution and geopolitical issues, there needs to be more considered weighing of what’s worth releasing and what isn’t. But given that traditional media like The New York Times, Guardian and Der Spiegel are involved, that seems unlikely. Here’s to a whole different brand of (I never thought I’d say this) diplomatic sensationalism!