While the Wikileaks revelations continue, questions to be asked

One:

The US and Australia schemed unsuccessfully in 2005 to block Mohamed ElBaradei’s election to a third term as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a newly leaked US diplomatic cable shows.

Both countries were unhappy with Mr ElBaradei’s “unhelpful” response to Iran’s nuclear program, but the bid to prevent his re-election to the nuclear regulatory agency’s leadership ultimately failed for lack of international support.

The February 18, 2005 State Department cable released by WikiLeaks overnight opens a window into the effort, describing a lunch conversation between Australian officials and a US special envoy for nuclear non-proliferation, Jackie Sanders.

The cable spotlights US and Australian concerns over the Egyptian diplomat’s interpretation that Iran had a “right” to civilian nuclear power, and his reluctance to declare Iran in non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Two:

A secret State Department diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks has revealed that one of the primary reasons behind Israeli objections to Palestinian statehood is that lack of statehood keeps Palestinian territories outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which prosecutes war crimes.

Military Advocate General for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Avichai Mandelblit met with US Ambassador James B. Cunningham in February of 2010 to discuss investigations into allegations of misconduct during Israel’s attacks on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, called Operation Cast Lead.

Mandelblit noted to Cunningham that Palestinian Authority Justice Minister Ali Kashan had requested that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories since 2002, up to and including Operation Cast Lead. The cable reads: “Mandelblit said several legal opinions had been delivered to Ocampo noting that the ICC had no legal jurisdiction due to the PA’s lack of statehood…”

The dialogue is unusually blunt, since Israel’s public objections to Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, to be voted upon this month, have been mundane and political in nature.

After requesting multiple times that the US “state publicly its position that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel regarding the Gaza operation,” Mandelblit “warned that PA pursuit of Israel through the ICC would be viewed as war by the GOI [Government of Israel].”

Mandelblit seems to deflect allegations of war crimes, not by denying they took place, but by dismissing them via a legal technicality. Accompanying Mandelblit was IDF Head of the International Law Department Col. Liron Libman who “noted that the ICC was the most dangerous issue for Israel,” reads the cable.

This week has seen the release of over 250,000 US cables in an orgy of information, including war crimes by the US military in Iraq that unsurprisingly isn’t receiving the kind of coverage it deserves in America itself and an Israeli official saying “we don’t do Gandhi very well” when explaining the desired violent IDF response to non-violent Palestinian protests in the West Bank.

But Salon’s Glenn Greenwald rightly criticises all parties involved in unloading so much information without proper checks and balances. There’s surely responsibility of the people releasing information to ensure as much as possible that people’s lives aren’t threatened (and there is no evidence thus far that this has happened but releasing names and sources of US embassies certainly increases the risk):

A series of unintentional though negligent acts by multiple parties — WikiLeaks, The Guardian’s investigative reporter David Leigh, and Open Leaks’ Daniel Domscheit-Berg — has resulted in the publication of all 251,287 diplomatic cables, in unredacted form, leaked last year to WikiLeaks (allegedly by Bradley Manning).  Der Spiegel (in English) has the best and most comprehensive step-by-step account of how this occurred. 

This incident is unfortunate in the extreme for multiple reasons: it’s possible that diplomatic sources identified in the cables (including whistleblowers and human rights activists) will be harmed; this will be used by enemies of transparency and WikiLeaks to disparage both and even fuel efforts to prosecute the group; it implicates a newspaper, The Guardian, that generally produces very good and responsible journalism; it likely increases political pressure to impose more severe punishment on Bradley Manning if he’s found guilty of having leaked these cables; and it will completely obscure the already-ignored, important revelations of serious wrongdoing from these documents.  It’s a disaster from every angle.

That said, and as many well-intentioned transparency supporters correctly point out, WikiLeaks deserves some of the blame for what happened here; any group that devotes itself to enabling leaks has the responsibility to safeguard what it receives and to do everything possible to avoid harm to innocent people.  Regardless of who is at fault — more on that in a minute — WikiLeaks, due to insufficient security measures, failed to fulfill that duty here.  There’s just no getting around that (although ultimate responsibility for safeguarding the identity of America’s diplomatic sources rests with the U.S. Government, which is at least as guilty as WikiLeaks in failing to exerise due care to safeguard these cables; if this information is really so sensitive and one wants to blame someone for inadequate security measures, start with the U.S. Government, which gave full access to these documents to hundreds of thousands of people around the world, at least).

Despite the fault fairly assigned to WikiLeaks, one point should be absolutely clear: there was nothing intentional about WikiLeaks’ publication of the cables in unredacted form.  They ultimately had no choice.  Ever since WikiLekas was widely criticized (including by me) for publishing Afghan War documents without redacting the names of some sources (though much blame also lay with the U.S. Government for rebuffing its request for redaction advice), the group has been meticulous about protecting the identity of innocents.  The New York Times’ Scott Shane today describes “efforts by WikiLeaks and journalists to remove the names of vulnerable people in repressive countries” in subsequent releases; indeed, WikiLeaks ”used software to remove proper names from Iraq war documents and worked with news organizations to redact the cables.”  After that Afghan release, the group has demonstrated a serious, diligent commitment to avoiding pointless exposure of innocent people — certainly far more care than the U.S. Government took in safeguarding these documents.

That said, there’s little doubt that release of all these documents in unredacted form poses real risk to some of the individuals identified in them, and that is truly lamentable.  But it is just as true that WikiLeaks easily remains an important force for good.  The acts of deliberate evil committed by the world’s most powerful factions which it has exposed vastly outweigh the mistakes which this still-young and pioneering organization has made.  And the harm caused by corrupt, excessive secrecy easily outweighs the harm caused by unauthorized, inadvisable leaks.

one comment
  • David

    Ok….blame the victim (US) for not safeguarding sensitive documents when it was Assange and his heroic organization who stole the information in the first place and, through their own incompetency, leaked said documents unredacted. How about Assange never screwing around with state secrets, therefore he wouldn’t be put in a position to bungle the whole thing and expose innocents? Please, blaming the victim is so progressive….Assange owns this one. Hope he feels good about himself.