As many now know, Wikileaks is a website through which whistle-blowers can deposit documented information leaked from government and corporate sources. The secret data is then offered to newspapers of note for publication. Governments claim that the classified information, if made known, can put the national security of the state as well as individual agents in jeopardy. It is also commonly argued that release of secret information to the general public can act against the interests of the state.
What has happened as a result of the leaks is that the public, here and abroad, has gotten to see the extent of how its governments act in secrecy. In some cases, potentially criminal acts have been exposed, along with embarrassing lies in the case of State Department leaks. In all cases, the truth about military operations and State Department dealings has been exposed for public scrutiny.
Considering that our government can label or classify all of this information or any information it so chooses as secret gets to the heart of the matter. We, the public, are only told what our government wants us to know, and it arbitrarily decides what it doesn’t want us to know. Therefore, our government can operate in secrecy and conduct its wars and foreign policy in total secrecy. Is this how a democracy is supposed to work?
There are grounds for maintaining secrecy if there is an existing threat to a nation. There are grounds for secrecy when transparency jeopardizes the safety of individuals. But if this is not the case, as so maintained by Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, then why is the government acting in secret on such an enormous scale and keeping the public in the dark? Where is the transparency and the public’s right to know how its representatives are acting and what they’re doing—in our name?
It is claimed by Wikileaks that all names of personnel or data that could put individuals in jeopardy are redacted before release to newspapers. Wikileaks didn’t publish the purloined information; international newspapers of note did. Wikileaks didn’t steal the documents from its sources; it simply gave the information to the papers, who in turn published it. The information itself has come from whistle-blowers. What has Wikileaks, its founders or operatives, done that is illegal? Reveal the truth about two wars and the lies of its government?
Without whistle-blowers like Daniel Ellsberg, who revealed the Pentagon papers during the Vietnam years, and former health insurance executive Wendell Potter, who exposed the truth about how his and other insurance companies actually operate, the public’s interest, safety and well being is dismissed. In the case of Vietnam, it meant that tens of thousands of American lives were put in mortal jeopardy. In the case of health-insurance companies who refused coverage or refused claims, tens of millions of people were also put in mortal jeopardy. These are brutal facts and consequences of the deadly secrets and outright lies perpetrated by our government and our corporate health insurance industry.
Is this democracy in action?
Some in government—Sens. Joe Lieberman and Diane Feinstein, to name but two—are calling for Julian Assange’s head. Some media mouthpieces are screaming from the bleachers to destroy him. Once again hysteria and mob rule raises its ugly head in America as we’ve seen so many times before. Kill the messenger! Destroy the traitor and any who support his actions! Off with their heads!
Well, I support and admire what Assange and the others at Wikileaks have done. I want the truth about what my government is doing. I want to know what is going on in secret behind my back and in my name. My government is killing people in (at least) two wars and some of our corporations are killing people at home by condemning them to death from disease and medical neglect. I applaud anyone who will pull back the curtain and show us the truth in this so-called democracy. We have been kept in the dark for far too long, and it’s time to let in the light.
When they come to crucify him for unveiling the truth, I hope I will have the courage to stand and say, “I am Assange!”
Will Shonbrun is a writer who lives in Sonoma.