Week two of the WikiLeaks massive document dump and I have yet to be surprised. By anything.

I’m not surprised the US government has a dishonest and unreliable partner in Afghanistan, the State Department thinks Vladimir Putin is an ass, the Americans put pressure on the Germans not to prosecute the CIA assets that kidnapped and tortured a German citizen they mistook for a terrorist, that our diplomats spend a good portion of their time (most of it, probably) shilling for US companies abroad.

I’m not surprised that the Justice Department is trying to figure out a way to prosecute WikiLeaks for passing along leaked documents, while at the same time NOT prosecuting the New York Times and other news outlets for publishing those leaked documents. We must all strictly adhere to the Double Standard. Major news outlets are part of the American establishment; Australian troublemakers with Chinese names are not. That’s why Mike Huckabee is calling for Julian Assange’s execution, but not Bill Keller’s.

Speaking of Double Standards, let’s not be surprised by the distinction everyone is drawing between the WikiLeaks document dump and the 1971 leaking of the Pentagon Papers. The latter was a courageous exercise in truth telling, the former a craven tantrum by alienated outsiders. Except don’t ask Dan Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers. “The truth is that EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time,” Mr. Ellsberg said.

There are those sexual assault charges pending against Mr. Assange in Sweden, for which he is now under arrest in the UK. Sex crime is a serious matter and sex criminals should be punished. At the same time, bogus sex crime charges are a standard tactic by the US government to discredit people who have become bothersome. Witness Army Chaplain James Yee, who was believed to be too friendly with the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and was charged with adultery and loading pornographic images, not to mention espionage charges that could have brought the death penalty. Capt. Yee spent eight months in jail, was vilified in the mainstream media and then … all charges were dropped.

Government spokespeople and their media echo chamber have repeatedly said, “people could die” as a result of the WikiLeaks document dump. (This echo chamber is why Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to prosecute Mr. Assange but not the media.) I’m not surprised that we’ve seen more hand-wringing over the people who could die as a result of the leaks than over the 100,000 Iraqis who actually did die as a result of our wrong-headed and misbegotten war or the American troops and civilians who continue to die in Afghanistan (see unreliable and dishonest government from the first paragraph) or the wounded and PTSD vets who stream back into this country.

Does a government have a right to conduct private conversations about how it makes and executes policy? Absolutely. Does a government have a right to deceive its citizens? Absolutely not. Whether what Wikileaks has done is right or wrong will be judged by history and the test will be this: what were the motives of the people who leaked the information? What were the motives of the people who wanted it suppressed? Was it financial gain or personal power? Or was it to bring secrets into the light, information into the public forum, to increase transparency in our global civic debate?

© Mark Floegel, 2010

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