Saturday, October 23, 2010

When it WikiLeaks, it pours

"Julian Assange...he even looks like he could be a character from Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net."
That is what author William Gibson said when I went to one of his book signings last month.  He was of course referring to the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, the web site that has been steadily releasing hitherto classified government documents.  Recently released documents regarding the war in Iraq have turned up startling facts:

-the number of civilian casualties in the conflict is 15,000 greater than we had previously been told.  This brings the total to approximately 122,000.

-there were numerous instances of torture perpetrated by Iraqi troops while US personnel stood idly by or at times even participated in.

-there are "many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians -- at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations.  There were at least four cases of lethal shootings from helicopters."

What is my take on all of this?  I have several thoughts.
First of all, in the digital age, WikiLeaks really was an inevitability.  I think that information has become, if it wasn't already, a living organism of sorts, possessing the desire to be free.  Like water it will seek any crevice to escape through, no matter how tiny, or it will gradually erode away at the barriers that confine it.  This information was going to get out one way or another.  Computer networks just facilitate the process.
Secondly, I think what's happening is important.  Assange himself said, "The attack on the truth by war begins long before war starts and continues long after a war ends."  The majority of Americans now see that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a fool's mission; a military action based on false premises and through imperialistic motivations.  By knowing the truth, regardless of how late in the coming it might be, there then exists that chance that the masses will be more skeptical next time someone begins beating the war drums and crying out in the name of patriotism, warning of supposedly impending threats by boogeymen in the dark.

Yet I don't think that the leaked information gives the entire story.  Case in point, Iraqi civilians shot and killed by American forces.  IFOF (Identification, Friend Or Foe) is a complicated action during combat.  That's probably being generous.  I know from volunteering with my local police department that both military and law enforcement personnel sometimes have only split seconds with which to decide whether or not to pull the trigger.  If the lives of your fellow soldiers are on the line, ask yourself if you wouldn't fire even if in doubt?  Obviously there have been abuses of Iraqi civilians at our hands.  Those soldiers responsible should be punished.  But often times, collateral damage occurs from honest, even if tragic, mistakes.  It's a fact, innocent people get killed in conflict.  That's why it's called war.  It's ugly and it's something we shouldn't want to do all that often.
I also am most concerned about leaked information compromising military operations and thereby the safety of US and allied troops.  Whether the action in Iraq is correct or not is immaterial to preserving the safety of those in combat.  US troops don't have the luxury of debating their orders.  Why should we hold their lives hostage to political views?  If you don't support an action, fight the politicians and policymakers...not the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.

Reservations aside, I still think WikiLeaks has the chance of turning into something valuable.  But one thing is certain, nothing will stop it.  Shut down WikiLeaks and another site will form just like it.
Who knows?  We may soon see footage of Julian Assange running down a city street, firing a handgun behind him at the MIBs in pursuit.

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  1. You're right about the benefits and drawbacks to WikiLeaks. It's something I've gone back and forth on in my head a thousand times. As good as an honesty watchdog as it is, our soldiers could be put in danger by it. Then again...

    Okay, now I'm doing it again. I just hope they won't start releasing anything they can get their hands on (because eventually, the government will clamp down on the leaks), to the point where we can no longer tell fact from fiction.

  2. It is a most sticky wicket.
    I suppose as long as WikiLeaks does not disclose military plans, tactics, or the specifics about weapons systems, then the rest is in the name of an informed society.

    Thanks for the comment, JEFritz!


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