To leak, or not to leak – that is the question.
As promised or threatened, depending who you are and how you may be affected by the disclosures, WikiLeaks is releasing a "first batch" of a quarter of a million documents, confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them written over the past three years. Apparently WikiLeaks gave an advanced look at their documents as much as three weeks ago by sharing some of the material with five prominent news organizations: The New York Times, The Guardian in England, Le Monde in France, Der Spiegel in Germany and El Pais in Spain. CNN said they did not get an advanced look as they refused to sign a confidentiality agreement with WikiLeaks so one has to assume these 5 major papers did.
Since the story broke, paper after paper has quoted one American government official after another as to the harm that would be caused by the disclosure of these documents. True or not true? In the end, no matter what anybody says, no matter what the assessment of the damages is, WikiLeaks is making these documents public.
On Sunday, November 28, 2010, The New York Times ran an article entitled, "A Notes to Readers: The Decision to Publish Diplomatic Documents". The paper explains how they reviewed the documents and edited them with an eye of excluding "information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security". They tell how they sent the Obama administration the cables it had decided to publish and further edited the documents as per suggestions from the administration. However, they make the distinction between what represents national security and what represents merely candid remarks that have the potential for being embarrassing. The Times has passed these edits back to WikiLeaks and to other news outlets.
At the end of all though, the Times admits that no matter what it does, WikiLeaks and others will make all documents and the complete unedited version available to all. Its involvement therefore is to ensure their readers get the proper analysis of the contents of these documents. They say that the documents tell the "unvarnished story" of what the American government has done and is doing. These documents expose the motivation behind the major decisions which affect everyone and the sometimes duplicity of America’s allies who benefit from the largess of the U.S. They conclude their editorial by saying that "it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name".
Fine words. But let’s not forget that this is going to happen whether anybody likes it or not. In the coming weeks, we are all going to have to deal with it and we will all see how the concept of transparency may affect how our governments do business.
Click HERE to read more from William Belle
NY Times editorial
Wikipedia: Julian Assange