While those are noble goals, this summer a new question began to emerge about the WikiLeaks release – or nonrelease – of the cables: Who decides in highly partisan local settings which cables are put out for public consumption?
Yet the WikiLeaks release today of all 251,287 cables in uncensored form blows that question out of the water.
Saying it is “shining a light on 45 years of US 'diplomacy',” WikiLeaks today made its entire cache of State Department cables searchable on the web – an act that US officials say will expose whistleblowers and informants in China, Afghanistan, the Arab world, and elsewhere to danger. It has also resulted in new revelations about a grisly massacre of an extended family in 2006 by US troops in Iraq.
The move by the controversial organization, originally set up by Julian Assange to “crack the world open and let it flower into something new,” follows a week of cables showing up in mainstream media after the compromise of a secret cache.
In a sense, WikiLeaks itself was starting to leak.
How the cables began appearing is a bumbling narrative starting with the creation of the secret cache, moving to the split of Mr. Assange and his main confidant, the publishing of a password in a book by British reporters, and an article last week in Berlin newspaper Der Freitag that drew a connection between the cache and the password – all leading by twists and turns to the cables being accessible.
Assange is seen now by analysts as simply deciding in the midst of his own leak crisis, to take the lead.
Today the five news organizations – The New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and Le Monde – that published Wikileaks cables only after they were redacted by US intelligence officials to protect informants, immediately condemned the uncensored cable release, saying it “could put sources at risk.” And in separate statement today, Le Monde said that the crisis seemed almost inevitable.
“Given their lofty ideals they [Wikileaks] had a responsibility for transparency and professionalism. They needed to be beyond reproach,” argues Karim Emile Bitar, an intellectual and think tank fellow in Paris. “They were portrayed as technology bigwigs. But it appears in this cruel world they could not manage this. Zorro doesn’t always triumph in real life. At some point they lost control, and this was bound to happen.”
As the secret trove of cables, originally designed to be a backstop for WikiLeaks, began to appear in places like Foreign Policy magazine and other venues, former US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told the Associated Press that "any autocratic security service worth its salt" was already on top of the dispatches and that other security services around the world "will have it in short order.”
Perhaps the biggest story to emerge from the content so far is a massacre of a family by US soldiers in Iraq, detailed in a cable from Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur investigating executions, to then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
According to Mr. Alston, US forces approached the al-Majmaee family home in the town of Balad in the early hours of March 15, 2006. They received fire. Then the troops “entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them. After the initial MNF [multinational force] intervention, a US air raid ensued that destroyed the house.” Among the murdered – four women and five children, one aged five months.
The incident has now prompted an investigation in Iraq.
As usual, many of those running around righteously condemning WikiLeaks for the potential, prospective, unintentional harm to innocents caused by this leak will have nothing to say about these actual, deliberate acts of wanton slaughter by the U.S. The accidental release of these unredacted cables will receive far more attention and more outrage than the extreme, deliberate wrongdoing these cables expose.