Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wikileaks

I mentioned Wikileaks in my first post and I wanted to comment on that while its still in the news.

The most important part of it that I've read about so far is how the US tried to keep other countries from prosecuting torturers:http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/12/hbc-90007836
The embassy engaged Spanish authorities in detailed discussions about the specific judges handling these cases and on at least one occasion extracted a promise from prosecutors to seek to have one sensitive case—in which former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales, former vice presidential chief of staff David Addington, John Yoo, Jay Baybee, Douglas Feith, and William J. Haynes figured as potential defendants—reassigned to a judge they considered friendlier to the United States. In fact, around the time of the cables in question the prosecutors acted just as the cable suggests they would.

Just another sad instance of the higher ups in the US gov't trying to shield itself from prosecution under US and international law. We knew the Bush and Obama administrations have done all they can to protect the people responsible for torture from prosecution. But we didn't know the US was trying to manipulate foreign courts.

Just another disgusting chapter in the saga of US torture. As usual nothing will come of this. No one will be held accountable. And future leaders will not fear any consequences of their actions. But who cares? Terrorists are trying to kill us. That apparently justifies anything the gov't wants to do.

And that brings us to the big picture issue with the Wikileaks. Obviously the gov't needs to operate with some level of secrecy. But in a democracy, where does the line get drawn? Its easy (and I think right) to say that the US is too committed to secrecy. But unless you think the principles of democracy cease to retain their importance when it comes to foreign policy and national security there needs to be a certain amount or level of information made available to the public.

We need to realize that the trade offs between security and democratic accountability aren't zero sum. If the gov't is forced to disclose more information that doesn't automatically mean security will suffer. The Pentagon even said the previous Wikileaks release didn't do so. Nor should we assume that being super secretive automatically means security is better. It could mean we are spending too much time trying to keep information secret that doesn't really affect security and thus doesn't need to be secret.

People need to know what their gov't is doing in order for democracy to work properly. Contrary to what some may think, politicians do respond public opinion (on some things anyway). Its a bit unclear if Wikileaks will accomplish the goal of making the gov't more transparent or if it will accomplish the opposite. But at least it has forced us to have that discussion. I at least commend it for that.

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