22 Aug 2010

WikiLeaks: The Global 4th Estate


WikiLeaks: The Global 4th Estate
Recently, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks was thrust onto the world stage with two separate releases of US government classified documents. The first was a cockpit video from a 2007 Apache gunship attack in Baghdad and the second was the largest ever military document leak in world history relating to the US-Afghanistan war. WikiLeaks called the sensational 2007 video Collateral Murder. It opened with a quote from Orwell’s 1984 and depicted from the point of view of the Americans in an Apache helicopter the gunning down of Iraqi civilians and Reuters reporters in a Baghdad street. As the controversy over the video boiled over, questions were raised about government secrecy, the importance of transparency, as well as legal and moral accountability. When the more controversial Afghan War Diaries were released, the US security establishment came out with rhetorical guns blazing trying to shoot the messenger and avert attention from the message itself.

Nevertheless, WikiLeaks’s work has been seen by many people worldwide as a positive development toward accountability and openness regarding the actions of those in power. Across all borders, this enigmatic group of volunteers have become instant heroes as champions of open government. There are also many that perceived these leaks as a threat to the national security state and they have responded with vehement talking points. The primary criticism has come mostly from US government leaders and American people who are insulated by the mainstream corporate media.

Those who have criticized WikiLeaks have said their releases of war documents are putting lives in danger in war zones and have accused them of political slant in the editing of the Collateral Murder video. Assange laid out in an interview with Steven Colbert how WikiLeaks actually intentionally editorialized the title, Collateral Murder and released this edited version along with the full, unedited footage (Comedy Partners, 2010). Some felt this slant was manipulation. Assange indicated that the purpose of the release was to show the world what modern warfare actually looks like and that “his mission is to expose injustice, not to provide an even-handed record of events.” He said that this slant was to bring maximum political impact (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010). Is the WikiLeaks editing of Collateral Murder an act of deception? What did Assange mean by maximum political impact?

Collateral Damage vs Collateral Murder:

“In the beginning was the Word … ” – Gospel of Saint John.

Some perceived the title Collateral Murder as manipulation on the part of WikiLeaks. When one carefully examines people’s reactions not only to the video but also to the way it was edited, it can reveal a lot about their position and perspective in the matter. In the article Manning & WikiLeaks Are True Patriots by Definition Dallas GoldBug examined a controversial question related to the ethics of whistle-blowers, namely whether they should be prosecuted for their actions or not. He said, “the answer to this would perceivably be different depending on what side of the pond you call home” (2010). This home is one’s foundational framework through which one perceives the world and is something that people are often not aware of. It is common to feel one is free from bias and is not taking sides in any issues. I have heard some say, “I am neutral and refuse to take either side because you and I really don’t know which side is right.” The problem is that one is often not aware of their own bias.


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