Why Wikileaks matters part 9753

There is SO much about Wikileaks at the moment that it’s truly hard to keep up. The following is a select selection of some of the more revealing revelations, related stories and controversies.

Laurie Oakes in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph:

Julia Gillard couldn’t help herself. She had to join the chorus of American hard-liners calling for action against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Assange’s action in making thousands of leaked US diplomatic cables public via the website was, the Prime Minister declared, “an illegal thing to do”.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland also got in on the act. “Obviously Australia will support any law enforcement action that may be taken,” he said. “The US will be the lead government in that respect, but certainly Australian agencies will assist.”

The Government’s attitude towards the US was already starting to look rather sycophantic over the Afghanistan conflict. Gillard went even further than President Barack Obama when she said Australia would be committed in Afghanistan for at least another decade.

Now she and McClelland are taking a tougher line on the WikiLeaks issue than the American Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

“We think there are potentially a number of criminal laws that could have been breached by the release of this information,” thundered McClelland.

Given that the leaked documents are American, not Australian, it is hard to see how any Australian laws could have been breached.

But McClelland ordered Australian Federal Police to look into it, just in case — as though they did not have genuinely important matters to occupy their time.

It is not clear that WikiLeaks has broken US laws, either.

Some of Assange’s US critics want him prosecuted for espionage. Specialist lawyers, however, say that such a prosecution would require evidence that Assange had been in contact with a foreign power and intended to provide secrets.

Simply putting material on a website, or passing it on to newspapers, does not cut the mustard.

The UN is routinely so compromised that this quasi-apology will change little. The US thinks it has the right to behave as it does:

HIllary Clinton has tried to repair strained relations with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after revelations that US diplomats were told to spy on him.

The US Secretary of State personally expressed regret to Mr Ban yesterday about the embarrassing disclosure by the WikiLeaks website that US diplomats had a significant intelligence-gathering operation at the UN.

According to US officials, Mrs Clinton stopped short of an apology when the pair met in Kazakhstan at a summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The UN confirmed they had discussed “complications” caused by the WikiLeaks revelations.

A UN statement said Mr Ban reiterated his commitment to working “in a transparent manner” with trust and confidence.

He went further in comments to reporters: “I do not believe that anybody would be happy when somebody knows that he or she is under watch by somebody.”

Public opinion can have an effect:

The Irish government has acted to limit transfers of American weapons to Israel and Iraq through Shannon Airport in the wake of public outrage after the Second Lebanon War, an American diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks reveals.

A cable sent in 2006 by the U.S. ambassador to Ireland at the time, James C. Kenny, discloses that the deputy head of mission warned Irish officials that the United States would begin using other European airports. Such a move could cost the Irish economy tens of millions of dollars.

After the Second Lebanon War, the Israel Defense Forces needed to restore its depleted ammunition stocks, but the ambassador’s cable indicates that the Irish government has been making it increasingly difficult for American weapons shipments to Israel to pass through its airport.

The cable, sent from the Dublin embassy in September 2006, says that “although supportive of continued U.S. military transits at Shannon Airport, the Irish Government has informally begun to place constraints on U.S. operations at the facility, mainly in response to public sensitivities over U.S. actions in the Middle East.”

According to the ambassador, “Segments of the Irish public … see the airport as a symbol of Irish complicity in perceived U.S. wrongdoing in the Gulf/Middle East.” He said the Irish government “has recently introduced more cumbersome notification requirements for equipment-related transits in the wake of the Lebanon conflict.”

The ambassador noted that the Irish foreign office protested to him that in February 2006, Apache helicopters were sent to Israel via Ireland without the local authorities being appropriately informed.

The ambassador wrote that senior Irish officials told him informally that if the United States made further mistakes in its conduct at the airport, the matter could become a central issue in Ireland’s 2007 elections.

Dangers exist:

Despite warnings from the U.S. government that the publication of secret diplomatic cables could put the local reporters and human rights activists identified in them at risk, WikiLeaks this week published the name of an Algerian reporter who accused Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of manipulating a 2006 parliamentary election during talks with American diplomats, according to a journalists’ rights group.

The reporter’s name was redacted on Thursday, two hours after the New York-based advocacy group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), asked a lawyer representing WikiLeaks, Mark Stephens, to remove it. The disclosure shows that despite measures by WikiLeaks and some news organizations to prevent exposure of individuals at risk, some vulnerable names continue to slip through the cracks.

“This was a case in which the mere fact of interacting with U.S. diplomatic officials in this particular country could put this journalist at risk,” Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director told Turtle Bay. “It seems to us that by deleting the names they mitigated that risk. Whether they completely eliminated it, I can’t say.”

Bravery from an unlikely quarter:

The Lahore High Court on Friday dismissed a petition registered by one Arif Gondal seeking a ban on the Wikileaks website.

Gondal in his petition termed the leakage of secret information by WikiLeaks (a not-for-profit media organisation) a conspiracy to create a rift among Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim and Western countries.

Requesting the court to issue orders for imposing a ban on the website, the petitioner argued that since Pakistan had good bilateral relations with a number of countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, the leakage of secret information would adversely affect these ties.

LHC’s Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed dismissed the petition, calling it non-maintainable.

We must bear the truth, no matter how harmful it is, television reports quoted Justice Saeed as saying.

Roger Cohen in the Times seems to praise US diplomats for pressuring foreign nations to insulate Washington from criticism. What an achievement. And the truth is now clear for all to see:

Let’s hear it for the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service!

They are, to judge from the WikiLeaks dump of a quarter-million of their private or secret cables, thoughtful, well-informed and dedicated servants of the American interest who write clear, declarative English sentences.

I’ve not heard much in the torrent of Wiki-chatter about these admirable career diplomats whose diplomacy is now condemned to be unquiet. Yet it is they whose lives have been upturned. Every journalist knows that if their correspondence over several years was suddenly made public, they would lose most of their sources. That should give every journalist pause.

So it will be on the front line of U.S. diplomacy. Contacts will self-censor. They will go quiet, particularly in the more conspiratorial parts of the world which also tend to be the most unstable, like the Middle East. Layers of secrecy will be added.

Julian Assange, the thin-skinned founder of WikiLeaks, has hurt U.S. interests across a broad but probably shallow spectrum. That will satisfy him in that he’s a self-styled foe of the United States. The guy makes me queasy.

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