Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More good than harm in WikiLeaks haul

The release of thousands of secret documents that reveal what governments are really saying about each other undoubtedly poses risks.
But if Canada's top spy is telling the Americans that he's worried Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a weak leader and corrupt - while our politicians are telling us things are going well - then I want to know.
WikiLeaks, a website and organization set up to share information that governments, agencies and corporations want to keep secret, is releasing about 250,000 cables from U.S. diplomats around the world back to Washington.
Lives will be put at risk, the politicians warn.
And international relations will be profoundly damaged if diplomats, politicians and businesspeople can't sit down to exchange views confident that no outsiders will ever know what they said. Let the shine in, and all will be lost, say critics of the document release.
There is a price to be paid. Some information exchange might be reduced; some decisions less well-informed.
But the basic premise of those criticizing WikiLeaks is the public can be kept in the dark - or told lies - while the real facts are kept within the elite, for the greater good.
That seems dangerous, at least as dangerous as too much openness.
Consider the WikiLeaks documents outlining U.S. diplomats' reports to Washington based on 2008 discussions with Jim Rudd, then the head of CSIS and Canada's top spy.
That was a difficult year for the war in Afghanistan. Lives were being lost and money spent, but little was being accomplished. But the government was keen to press on with the mission even as the public had doubts.
Judd's comments to U.S. diplomats in Ottawa would have been a useful addition to the discussion about whether we should keep spending lives and treasure in Afghanistan.
Rudd was not encouraged by progress in Afghanistan, the diplomats reported to their masters in Washington. CSIS identified many problems - President Hamid Karzai's "weak leadership, widespread corruption, the lack of will to press ahead on counter-narcotics, limited Afghan security force capability (particularly the police) and, most recently, the Sarpoza prison break."
(Canada had spent $1 million to improve the prison and Corrections Canada had trained the guards. But in June 2008,Taliban fighters moved into Kandahar, attacked the prison and freed about 1,000 inmates. It was a show of defiance.)
There were some official statements about how difficult things were in Afghanistan in 2008. But there was more cheerleading. The top NATO commander said the Taliban was on the run. Brought to their knees, said a British commander.
But privately, Rudd was sharing a bleak assessment with the U.S. and, presumably, the Canadian government.
None of this is clearcut. If Rudd and others share information with diplomats, perhaps better solutions will be reached.
It can be argued that the head of Canada's spy service shouldn't be making his views public, pushing aside elected representatives.
But should U.S. government representatives get the real story, while Canadians are kept in the dark?
I'm glad to learn that the CSIS head told U.S. contacts that images of Omar Khadr's interrogation would trigger "knee-jerk anti-Americanism" and "paroxysms of moral outrage, a Canadian specialty."
And that he told the Americans that court decisions had "tied CSIS in knots" and cost it public support. Canadian authorities can't even use evidence if it could have been obtained through torture, he complained.
It seems that these things - torture, handcuffed spies, a stalled war, our role in Afghanistan - should be subject to a real public discussion.
But the only honest conversation was between American envoys and Canadian spies. We were on the outside.
And we only know about the real story because of WikiLeaks.
Those on the inside generally like secrecy.
It's harder to see why the rest of us should indulge their desire to have two sets of facts - one for them, and one for the rest of us.
Footnote: The man behind WikiLeaks is Julian Assange, an Australian citizen and former computer hacker. He's keeping a low profile; various governments are discussing espionage or other charges (he faces sexual assault allegations in Sweden) and Sarah Palin has apparently suggested that the U.S. should assassinate him.


DPL said...

The guy must be upsetting some folks as somebody is claiming he is to be charged for sexual issues.

Leah said...

Palin suggested assassinating him...hmmm...isn't she the one that likes to refer to herself as being a good Christian? Maybe she needs to back up a little - she'd find in Julian's case, Jesus would be giving him a ^5 for setting the truth free...and He certainly wouldn't be advocating his death.

It's so nice to see Palin and her ilk show their real colors once in a while...even if the color is black as coal.

Good Luck to you Julian - you're going to need it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Sarah Palin was quoted as saying that Julian Assange "should be hunted down with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders", attracting the immediate response from one blogger "Phew. I guess that means he's safe for at least a decade"

But seriously, how long do you think the Campbell Liberals could/would have lasted if Julian Assange had hacked into their "most open and honest" government files and memos? He should get a medal. Maybe we should offer Assange sanctuary here in BC, complete with a battery of computers, and see what he might dredge up.

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DPL said...

Let's not forget Harpers buddy Tom Flanigan who said the guy should be killed. and he is a university professor in Sask.

Anonymous said...

Has any study ever been done that measures the relationship between the distance to one's political right-of-centre and the ease with with they will espouse and embrace the concept of murdering someone with whom they find something to disagree with? It almost seems to go hand in hand.

Raymond Graham

Kim said...

DPL, I believe Flanagan is a prof at U. of Calgary, Harper's Alma Mater. Very right wing. Very Conservative.

Anyone else notice how certain Universities tend to pump out certain Ideologies? Reminds me of Gary Bass threatening SFU Criminology Dept with funding cuts for critising the Picton Investigation.

Good article Paul, I firmly believe that we should have no military role in Afghanistan, I also feel that open debate is the best way to support our troops.