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Thoughts on Wikileaks

February 13, 2011

It comes from an article by Christian Caryl in The New York Review of Books January 13:

“…it seems to boil down to a policy of disclosure for disclosure’s sake. This is what the technology allows, and Assange has merely followed its lead. I don’t see coherently articulated morality, or immorality, at work here at all ; what I see is an amoral technocratic void.”

The story of Wikileaks, the author argues, has little in common with that of the Pentagon papers of the 1970s. Daniel Ellsberg did not breach secrecy for its own sake. He was acutely conscious of the risks of disclosure and did not circulate documents betraying live diplomatic efforts to end the fighting. The Wikileaks dumped on the Web allow endless mischief. They can be data-mined and pattern-mined by the Chinese and private companies. Amoral – nothing in common with Ellsberg’s intervention aimed at exposing US lies about Vietnam and ending the killing.

But my sympathies for Assange rise as I hear about this “trial”. How did Swedes come to define rape as including consensual sex ? To construct a trial behind closed doors? With several public servants sitting on the bench? The prosecutor cosy with the plaintiff?

What a way to turn Assange into a martyr.

And, as it happens, all under the European Charter of Rights and Freedoms which Michael Kirby, David Marr, Susan Ryan and others say has to be duplicated here if we are ever to taste true freedom. I’d advise sticking to the Australian court system and living without the joys of charter law.

  1. J Maunsell permalink
    February 13, 2011 12:51 pm

    The last paragraph is extremely relevant to the continued erosion of the separation of powers and the lack of any redress to this wrong in Australia.

  2. robina creaser permalink
    February 13, 2011 3:20 pm

    Oh Bob – is this really the best you can do ? – parrot a US source which has been humiliated by their pathetic subjugation to US Government policy of endless wars and Islamaphobia.

    Daniel Ellsberg has been a prominent and outspoken supporter of both Australian citizen Julian Assange and of the work of Wikileaks – the organisation he founded. Surely if you are citing Ellsberg – you must in all honesty present his own views, not a 2nd hand 2nd rate misrepresentation of them ?

    The Collateral Murder helicopter gunship video stands as justification for Wikileaks, as do the 15,000 previously undocumented deaths in Iraq – where over 1 million people have died in the face of Western media silence and complicity.

    Australia`s disgusting ‘bipartisan political support’ for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, shows that we need Assange and Wikileaks desperately.
    The Pentagon has stated that no lives have been lost over Wikileaks.
    Wikieaks offered to allow US security services to redact the US cables and they refused. The cables have thus been processed through the Mainstream media – so that names etc can be removed. Wikileaks have held back 20% of the cables on the grounds that their publication could be dangerous. They have shown all necessary aspects of good journalism and good sense.

    I think that you need to think about the difference between information that embarasses bad government and information that threatens the innocent.
    Wikileaks have exposed embarassingly bad policy and bad government around the world – but the US, being omnipresent with their 1000 foreign bases, have attracted the most attention.
    I would also suggest that you think about the difference between US interests and Australian interests, because they do not automatically coincide.
    US Secretary of State Allbright(ret) says that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children was
    ‘a price worth paying’ for US policy goals. Is that really where Australia stands ?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      February 13, 2011 8:16 pm

      The distinction made between Ellsberg’s leaks with a purpose and Assange’s leaks for the sake of it is valid and interesting. As for the US source – the NY Review of Books – it has opposed every aspect of US policy on the Middle East and at every opportunity.

      But no comment on the trial in Sweden ?

  3. Valli permalink
    February 13, 2011 3:21 pm

    It doesn’t surprise me that a New York Times journalist cannot see that “breaching secrecy for its own sake” is actually taking a high moral stance against the secrecy itself. Perhaps I should also not be surprised that an Australian ex-politician cannot see why this would be?

    The intention is clearly to encourage everyday people to demand transparency in government, by allowing us to see the true nature of what our ‘representatives’ are up to.

    I certainly gained valuable knowledge of Australian government by having my suspicions of Mark Habib et al confirmed. Perhaps the condition of the current NSW state government should encourage the people to ask more questions?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      February 13, 2011 8:11 pm

      Not NY Times. But are you saying there should be no confidential communications within government ? So the president of the US could not speak to the President of Indonesia – about their domestic political constraints, about Chinese intentions, about terrorism – without those notes being released to the world. I disagree.

  4. Valli permalink
    February 13, 2011 10:13 pm

    My mistake, as you say NOT NY Times 🙂

    However.. What form of censorship so you propose Wikileaks use to get the balance right between transparency and ‘too much information’?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      February 14, 2011 7:25 am

      Try the Ellsburg model ie don’t hurt peacemakers.

  5. February 14, 2011 9:14 am

    I’m not familiar with Charter Law, but if what you say is true, why would Kirby, Turnbull or Ryan choose this unfair system over the law we already have? Kirby is highly intelligent and would be familiar with all the workings of this charter.

  6. Michael Egan permalink
    February 14, 2011 9:46 am

    I suspect that J.Maunsell has been watching too much American television.
    The separation of powers principle applies in the United States, but not in Westminster systems, such as Australia, where the principle of “responsible government” applies.
    Separation of powers means the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary are independent of each other. In our system cabinet members are also members of Parliament and their continuation in office depends on continued support from the legislature. That is they are responsible to the Parliament which in turn in responsible to the people. The independence of the Judiciary comes not from any principle of separation of powers, but instead from the Act of Settlement. It has always interested me that in the United States legislators can interrogate people nominated for appointment to the Judiciary about their political, philosophical and legal views, which is what Australians would come to expect if we had a Bill of Rights. Hardly what I’d call “separation of powers” or judicial independence.

    • Peter Pando permalink
      February 19, 2011 3:37 am

      Mr Egan, If you are talking about the situation in State governments, that might be right to some extent, but Federally the Commonwealth Constitution clearly marks the judicary out as a distinct and separate entity. If Ministers in council can’t advise in a non-partisan way, God help us all.
      Mr Carr, I tried to include thoughts on four issues into the last post, my apologies.

  7. Valli permalink
    February 14, 2011 8:07 pm

    Re: “the Ellsburg model ie don’t hurt peacemakers.”

    Who has been hurt exactly? Even the US have backed off on their concern that would happen.

    It would seem that many people have been hurt by the US government in the past and they have hidden that under an infamous cloak of secrecy. If they are now sitting red-faced with the world watching their actions, isn’t it likely Wikileaks will actually save lives?

  8. Peter Pando permalink
    February 19, 2011 3:44 am

    The West must produce leaders fit for the purpose of ensuring that the perilous predicament that Assange may or may not have put us in will not limit internet freedoms for the people whose intentions and actions on the internet are good. This can be done and will need considerable sophistication to avoid the internet becoming another vehicle for arbitrary power.

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