Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Stand with WikiLeaks

The massive campaign of intimidation against WikiLeaks is sending a chill through free media advocates everywhere.

Top US politicians have called WikiLeaks a terrorist organization and suggested assassination of its staff, and the organization has come under intense government and corporate attack. But WikiLeaks is only publishing information passed to it by a whistle-blower. And it has partnered with the world's leading newspapers to vet the information it publishes.

If WikiLeaks has broken laws, it should face legal action. But the immense extra-judicial intimidation is an attack on democracy. We urgently need a public outcry for freedom of the press and expression. Sign the petition to stop the crackdown and forward this email to everyone -- let's get 1 million voices this week!

WikiLeaks isn't acting alone -- it has partnered with the top newspapers in the world (The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, etc.) to carefully review 250,000 US diplomatic cables and remove any information that it is irresponsible to publish. Only 800 cables have been published so far. Past WikiLeaks publications have exposed government-backed torture, the murder of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and corporate corruption [plus government corruption and abuses of power in various places around the world].

The US government is currently pursuing all legal avenues to stop WikiLeaks from publishing more cables, but the laws of democracies protect freedom of the press. The US and other governments may not like the laws that protect our freedom of expression, but that's exactly why it's so important that we have them, and why only a democratic process can change them.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether WikiLeaks is releasing more information than the public should see, whether it undermines diplomatic confidentiality and whether that's a good thing, whether its founder Julian Assange has the personal character of a hero or a villain. But none of this justifies a vicious campaign of intimidation to silence a legal media outlet by governments and corporations. Click to join the call to stop the crackdown.

Ever wonder why the media so rarely gives the full story of what happens behind the scenes? This is why - because when they do, governments [and corporations] can be vicious in their response. And when that happens, it's up to the public to stand up for our democratic rights to a free press and freedom of expression. Never has there been a more vital time for us to do so.


I think this is a well-worded petition. There is no need to agree with WikiLeak's tactics or its specific judgements on some cables to be disgusted with or at least disturbed by elements of the official response.
PS Hooray for Rudd: "Mr Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorised release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network. The Americans are responsible for that. [...] I think there are real questions to be asked about the adequacy of [the US] security systems and the level of access that people have had to that material. [...] The core responsibility, and therefore legal liability, goes to those individuals responsible for that initial unauthorised release."

Kudos too to the hundreds of academics, writers, editors, lawyers, journalists, politicians and other Australian figures who have sent this open letter to PM Gillard, calling for her to uphold the rule of law. I have written to her about this as well, which you can do here.

And Malcolm Turnbull talks a great deal of sense.

As does Frank La Rue, the UN representative for freedom of opinion and expression.

And, of course, Assange himself deserves to be heard.


byron smith said...

SMH: 'Moreover, in response to the claim by an American admiral that Assange had blood on his hands, The New York Times noted on Monday: ''Despite that dire warning, Robert Gates, the defence secretary, told Congress in October that a Pentagon review 'to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure' of the war logs by WikiLeaks."'

byron smith said...

Another good piece. Did you know that 19m federal US employees "have been told not to read the cables material — or any publication containing them"? Seriously, it is now an offence for a federal employee to read the New York Times.

byron smith said...

Private companies and public speech. H/T Jess.

byron smith said...

Fascinating piece reflecting on Assange's (published) aims in setting up WikiLeaks. H/T Richard.

Donna said...

I find this whole thing a little strange. Isn't it usually the Americans who champion freedom of speech (even if it vilifies someone else). But when it's about what their own government, has actually said...?

Another reason it is strange is that I don't agree that it was good to publish all of those internal cables. Some things are not meant for a public hearing for good reasons (and if they were intended for a public hearing they would have been phrased differently - the intended audience of a statement affects the meaning).

Thanks though, for your other post showing the range of things which wikileaks have publicised - I can see the positive benefit they have, but I wonder in the case of these cables that the power they have has been abused?

By the way, is there any law they have broked by publishing these cables - surely there must be?

byron smith said...

Yes, I mentioned before that perhaps some of the cables that have come out were more than is necessary and may not have been in the public interest, though I think that the ones that clearly are make it overall a good thing that they have come out. Remember that only about 1,000 of the 250,000 have been published, ones judged by WikiLeaks and the other five news organisations (including the Guardian and New York Times) to be in the public interest. They are not just publishing everything willy-nilly and they are redacting names that they judge to be to sensitive (that is, which could lead to reprisals). So far, about six months after the Afghanistan logs came out, the Pentagon has admitted that it doesn't know of anyone who has been harmed as a result of those files.

As for whether WikiLeaks has broken any laws, a non-US media company publishing information on websites based outside the US that it did not seek but which it received from an anonymous source is not an easy case for the US government to make. There is no obvious law that has been broken (though you can be sure the US are looking hard for one). There have been some suggestings that a 1917 espionage act might be relevant, but lawyers have said that it would be a long shot to make it stick. The talk of charging Assange with treason is just silly bluster - obviously since he is not a US citizen he cannot have committed treason against the USA. And if they want to label WikiLeaks a terrorist organisation, they would really need to do the same to the NYT., Guardian and other major papers.

Also, WikiLeaks have been running for four years publishing very sensitive information. Some of it has been more sensitive and shocking than the material in these cables, which have gained so much attention mainly because (a) there are so many of them (so who knows what is yet to be revealed) and (b) they concern the US so directly (and major political figures in the US), when many of their earlier leaks were more to do with other nations. And yet, during those four years, WikiLeaks claimed to have faced over 100 legal actions taken against them and to have never lost. So they are not amateurs, even if they are now playing with the big boys who don't always play fair.

byron smith said...

Information wars?