The biggest leak of confidential U.S. government papers is being debated in the public, and some are calling it a betrayal of the country’s security position, as backroom conversations show questionable practices of our government.
The Wiki-Leaks controversy has raised the question of whether government security is bigger than freedom of the press, or whether freedom of the press is bigger than government security?
The public trust runs deep, as it relates to the American people’s view of government. We trust that government will do whatever is necessary to defend our democracy and maintain its stability.
And we trust that as “defenders of the free world,” our government will do what is right to ensure our global position is right both philosophically and morally.
Part of the practice of foreign policy is the absence of the transparency that ensures government is acting correct and held accountable for its actions in defending our democracy. One reason we are able to hold our government accountable in anyway at all is because of the watchdog role of the press, and our right to say that government isn’t always right (right to petition government). So why is Wiki-Leaks viewed by some as a betrayal of government trust?
The Wiki-Leaks web site posted thousands of confidential memos about the government’s negotiations in two highly questionable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some memos show American diplomats in critical and compromising conversations that, in the opinion of some, make the nation look either weak or manipulative. Others show America resisting manipulation by other countries. Thus, the process of foreign-policy negotiation.
The American people’s trust was truly tested about the necessity of both wars, but they were tolerated in the aftermath of a domestic terrorist attack as being necessary to defend the democracy. The absence of reason coupled with the presence of fear equates to free reign of government. Any questioning of principle or practice as it relates to diplomacy (or the absence of it) and foreign relations engagement historically brings the wrath of the government and the cloak of anti-patriotism that no one enjoys wearing.
Wiki-Leaks spokesman Julian Assange, who was arrested this week in Switzerland on matters unrelated to the leaks (what a coincidence?), is bearing the brunt of the leak scrutiny, and most certainly will be harassed until a court defends his “freedom of the press” rights.
It is said that all is fair in love and war, but does that mean the American people are not supposed to know the diplomacy engagements of its government or call into question the integrity of its practices? At what point does government answer to the people beyond the simplicities of voting and referendum legislation?
These questions were raised 40 years ago when the Pentagon Papers were leaked in 1971, and Daniel Ellsberg’s first amendment press rights were defended by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Pentagon Papers revealed our government’s 22-year involvement in Vietnam and the fact that President Lyndon Johnson had lied to the public and to Congress about negotiations with the Vietcong and exaggerated the need to escalate the war.
The freedom of the press protects anonymity in political discourse, when government has violated the public’s trust. Government cover-ups are more common that it, or the public, wants to admit. The public tends to turn a blind eye, when it comes to the complexities of foreign relations as long as our government gets it done to the favor of the American people. The blind eye becomes blind trust, in this case. Fast forward 40 years, and we see our government not being truthful about the death tolls of Iraqis and Afghanis that reaches into the millions and the public seeing that in an unpopular war, the “collateral damage” on both sides of war not being worth the toll.
Wiki-Leaks, like the Pentagon Papers, raises issue with the government’s disclosures of the war and the conflicts that the documents present as it relates to how we have come to understand our government’s philosophical approach of political realism. Do we have the right to ask from time to time the question: “Is our government lying to us.”
Disclosing confidential documents that undermine our government’s security is not advocated by any means, and traitors should be jailed. Disclosing dishonesty in government practices by confidential leaks is a responsibility of the press. Government agencies (particularly the FBI and CIA) use leaks to discredit those they don’t like or who they see as threats to the public disclosures of government betrayal. Why should the press not be able to do the same, when it becomes obvious that government has not been forthcoming in its dealings and violating the public trust. That’s what the Wiki-Leaks debates is really about.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.
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