Knowing it all

Alan Duff

Since its founding in 2006, the website WikiLeaks has been at the forefront of controversy by releasing a steady stream of classified documents and videos from countries around the world. As the contents of WikiLeaks’ leaked information have become more damaging to governments, the question of what is acceptable to be published must be asked – pitting freedom of speech and transparency against national and individual security.
WikiLeaks’ release of classified information like Guantanamo Bay documents, footage of the Granai airstrike and most recently U.S. diplomatic cables has brought it into direct contention with the United States.
To justify its actions, WikiLeaks claims it is following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – citing the rights of the press and free expression of thought and ideas. Though not identical to the rights that the First Amendment guarantees, both documents convey a similar theme.
The First Amendment states that our government will never make any law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” However, the federal government seems to have made an exception for WikiLeaks; in July 2010, then National Security Advisor James Jones stated, “The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.”
In response to all the whistle blowing, President Obama has even encouraged the Justice Department to further prosecute individuals who participate in leaking classified government documents.
Apparently national security is the number one priority, and makes the United States unaccountable for any transgressions. It sounds eerily similar to the rhetoric used by the Iranian government.
According to The New York Times, a human rights lawyer in Iran was just sentenced to 11 years in jail for “activities against national security.” Each time the United States uses the phrase “national security,” it seems we lose a few more rights.
As an American I feel torn over this issue. I value our freedom of speech. I believe it is an inalienable right, but if it endangers our troops and those who are willing to give information to the United States, is it worth the cost? I believe a line must be found where citizens can know what their governments are doing – without unveiling the names of our operatives and the locations of our soldiers.
A practical and compromising solution is found with groups like Amnesty International, who stated, “criminal proceedings aimed at punishing a private person for communicating evidence about human rights violations can never be justified.” Amnesty International also maintains that while it is acceptable for governments to have classified information, it is not acceptable to withhold information that brings to light human rights infringements.
As Americans, we have a right to know what our government is doing. When the United States hides behind the term “national security” and uses it to justify illegal detainment and airstrikes on civilians, it becomes an excuse.
The rights of individuals and countries should be respected, and in that instance WikiLeaks should be held accountable, but when WikiLeaks uncovers documents that show corruption and gross human rights violations, they would be doing the world an injustice by not releasing those documents.