Champions of democracy, or people with bloodied hands?

By volume, it was unprecedented: almost 92,000 ”logs” – raw, ground-level accounts of a nine-year conflict in which the US, Australia and 40 other nations are mired – dumped on a website that prides itself on championing whistleblowers and which claims, immodestly, to be helping underpin ”true democracy and good governance on which all mankind’s dreams depend”.But this week’s release by WikiLeaks of the classified US military documents, uniquely in concert with three big news organisations, invited searing scrutiny and allegations that the exercise had compromised the security of coalition forces while unmasking Afghan informants now at risk of reprisals.And by week’s end, wonder was that the medium was perhaps the message, that while the thrust of the documents was hardly revelational, the high-tech disgorging of secret material might prove an increasingly popular method for airing grievances, for exposing lies and cover-ups, and – yes, maybe – for keeping governments honest.”I’m sure that we are changing the game here,” says Daniel Schmitt, a 32-year-old former IT security specialist from Berlin who, with the Australian Julian Assange, is the public face of WikiLeaks. ”Just look at the sheer amount of good leaks we’ve had in the past three years. The whole idea of automating the leaking process is changing the way that society works.”Call it the democratisation of leaking: individual media groups were more inclined to keep custody of the information they were scrutinising, says Schmitt, [but] ”we publish the documents in full”.However, on this occasion WikiLeaks gave selected media accomplices – The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel – a month to scrutinise the material that was drawn essentially from battlefield and intelligence reports compiled between 2004 and last year.The result was a collaboration that disseminated the contents widely, while lending WikiLeaks the imprimatur of some of the world’s most respected mastheads.But Nick Davies, a Guardian special correspondent, draws a clear distinction between the two camps. ”WikiLeaks is operating in a different way to a news organisation: we select and check and make judgments and publish; Wikileaks says, ‘Here it is’. I think Julian is a responsible man but it would be very wrong if they have published material that leads to anybody being harmed.”Across the Atlantic, Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, has also sought to distance the newspaper from WikiLeaks. ”First, the Times has no control over WikiLeaks – where it gets its material, what it releases and in what form. To say that it is an independent organisation is a monumental understatement …”Obviously we did not disclose the names of Afghans, except for public officials, who have co-operated with the war effort, either in our articles or in the selection of documents we posted on our own website. We did not disclose anything that would compromise intelligence-gathering methods.”Davies says The Guardian published fewer than 300 of the 92,000 documents. ”From hour one, day one, it was clear we had to be careful not to publish anything that would lead to harm. The three news websites are clean. But I don’t know if [Assange] has succeeded in making the WikiLeaks website clean.”Assange declined to speak to the Herald. But in his public statements he has asserted WikiLeaks follows a ”harm minimisation policy” and has claimed that the documents released via its website had been checked.”We held back 15,000 reports, not because we viewed that they would be any threat to Western forces in Afghanistan but rather because some of them – a very, very few number – mentioned the names of local Afghanis that might have been subject to retribution. We’re not sure yet, but we decided to pause.”But by Wednesday, The Times of London had published redacted files that it claimed contained names and locations of Afghan sources. In just two hours of searching the archive, its reporters claimed to have uncovered the names of ”dozens of Afghans credited with providing detailed intelligence to US forces. Their villages are given for identification and also, in many cases, their fathers’ names.”An angry Pentagon has upped the pressure.”Mr Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.News organisations worldwide continue to trawl the material, looking to unearth fresh information about a mission that remains a long way short of being accomplished.And there is plenty more information to be shared: this year, WikiLeaks has been receiving about 25 submissions a day. ”Even if half of that is complete bullshit … it’s still a huge amount of documents,” Schmitt says. ”That’s going to be information from all over the world, from all walks of life and from all industries.”Publish and be damned? Schmitt says WikiLeaks does not intend to be reckless. But publishing can be problematic. ”Every piece of information you publish has the possibility that with publication, someone might be harmed … That is something we have to be honest about.”
Nanjing Night Net