Debates, Discussions, and Reforms
By Nathan Fuller. July 3, 2012.
WikiLeaks immediately upended journalism as we knew it, filling newspapers with more revelations than editors knew what to do with, more scoops in a year than most journalists get in a lifetime, and more source documents than American journalists had ever had access to before. WikiLeaks blew holes in the wall of U.S. secrecy, and the world is better for it. As Julian Assange turns 41 in political limbo in Europe, and as Bradley Manning nears 800 days in jail without a court martial, we remember how much good WikiLeaks’ releases have done.
The most clear and direct effect from the release of a diplomatic cable is in Iraq. As CNN reported, WikiLeaks-released documents revealed that U.S. troops had summarily executed Iraqi civilians and the military covered up the heinous crime with an airstrike. With that release, the Iraqi Prime Minister refused to promise U.S. troops legal protection in Iraq, and negotiations to keep American forces there broke down. President Obama was forced to keep the agreed upon deadline and remove U.S. troops, ending a nearly decade long occupation that was opposed by a majority of both US civilians and soldiers and that killed thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
The documents exposed other governments as well. In Tunisia, cables revealed the breadth of the Ben Ali regime’s corruption, inspiring an already-enraged citizenry to rise up in democratic revolt and take their country back. The Tunisian group Nawaat started Tunileaks to publicize WikiLeaks releases regarding Ben Ali and Tunisian politics, helping stoke the revolutionary fire.
The Tunisan revolt then sparked a wave of revolts across the Middle East and North Africa, including the ouster of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak. WikiLeaks cables exposed the depth and breadth of Mubarak’s corruption and the close ties the U.S. kept with him up until his removal. The international Occupy Movement, which started in New York, was in turn influenced by the middle eastern Arab Spring. As the Guardian reported, Amnesty International hailed WikiLeaks’ as a point of inspiration:
The rights group singles out WikiLeaks and the newspapers that pored over its previously confidential government files, among them the Guardian, as a catalyst in a series of uprisings against repressive regimes, notably the overthrow of Tunisia’s long-serving president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
“The year 2010 may well be remembered as a watershed year when activists and journalists used new technology to speak truth to power and, in so doing, pushed for greater respect for human rights,” Amnesty’s secretary general, Salil Shetty, says in an introduction to the document. “It is also the year when repressive governments faced the real possibility that their days were numbered.”
Trevor Timm reviewed more of WikiLeaks’ impact in the Middle East for EFF, including how documents changed the way we saw Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, and the U.S.’s secret dealings there. We’ve recapped more major WikiLeaks revelations as well, from the secret casualty count including 15,000 previously unknown deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the official policy to ignore torture in Iraq, to the fact that we knew Guantanamo prisoners were innocent. These exposures are staggering in scope and shine much-needed light on opaque operations undertaken in our name and with our tax dollars.
It’s important to note, as we review the many benefits WikiLeaks provided us, that this type of positive change, if we’re to believe the chat logs, is what Bradley Manning desperately hoped for. He said he witnessed “crazy, almost criminal political backdealings” by “a plethora of states acting in self interest.” He hoped exposing them would compel “debate, discussion, and reforms,” and he was right.
The release of these documents has demonstrably improved the world, in the short term by inspiring these democratic uprisings and in the long run with a new perspective on massive secrecy and covert diplomacy. And yet, as it works to send him to life in jail, the military is attempting to paint Bradley as a traitor who didn’t care for his country. But it’s clear that the opposite is true: Bradley cared deeply enough for his fellow Americans that he believed they deserved to know what their government was doing in secret. Bradley said, “Information should be free…It belongs in the public domain.” If Bradley did what he’s accused of, he put this invaluable information in the public domain for the world to see. We continue to feel the positive effects to this day.