December 14, 2010

Cablegate: Will It Really Change Anything?

As I’ve made clear over the past two weeks, I wholeheartedly support WikiLeaks’ courageous attempt to bring government wrongdoing to light. And indeed it has disclosed much government wrongdoing.  Glenn Greenwald lists some of its most important revelations:

(1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

(2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA's kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

(3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA’s torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch today about this: "The day Barack Obama Lied to me"); 

(4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War "investigation"; 

(6) “American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world” about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post's own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

(7) the U.S.'s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal -- a coup -- but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

(8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

(9) Hillary Clinton's State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961. 


Speaking to Amy Goodman earlier this year, Julian Assange stated that WikiLeaks’ goal in revealing such information is to make the world’s governments more just:

We have clearly stated motives, but they are not antiwar motives. We are not pacifists. We are transparency activists who understand that transparent government tends to produce just government. And that is our sort of modus operandi behind our whole organization, is to get out suppressed information into the public, where the press and the public and our nation’s politics can work on it to produce better outcomes.

But will these revelations—will any subsequent WikiLeaks revelations—achieve this goal?

I really doubt it.  Nobody who’s been paying attention to world events over the past decade should be surprised by any of these recent disclosures.  Those who’ve bothered to learn the truth have long known that our government lies to us, they’ve long known that it kidnaps, tortures, and murders innocent people, that it props up dictators overseas, that it continues to subsidize Israel as it systematically violates international law and deprives Palestinians of their most basic human rights.  WikiLeaks has given us a few more details, a few more examples of our government’s criminality, but, aside from these details, it really hasn’t told us anything new.  

Which, I imagine, means that these revelations aren’t going to change much of anything. If the American people really cared about having a just government, they would have taken to the streets a long time ago.  They would have been outraged upon learning that Bush had waged a war based on lies, that he had suspended habeas corpus, that he’d been illegally spying on American citizens.  They would have been equally outraged when Obama continued the worst of Bush’s policies and added an extremely pernicious one of his own, declaring that the executive has the right to assassinate American citizens without any due process.  We didn’t need WikiLeaks to learn about any of this wrongdoing.  Yet, with the exception of a small number of peace activists and civil libertarians, no one cared.  

The problem isn’t that the American people don’t know enough.  The problem is that they don’t care enough. WikiLeaks can bring new facts to light.  And I’m glad that it has.  But it can’t change people’s hearts.  

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