Everyone at this point knows his name, and his role as founder and editor of Wikileaks. I find it extraordinary the lengths the media has gone to villainize someone who supports free speech, support for whistle blowers, and publication of information. The case for Wikileaks is not perfect, and for Julian himself is even less so, but the world is as full of imperfect heroes as it is imperfect people.
My primary issue with Wikileaks has been its paranoia in defending itself, and weak arguments for suppression of information to protect itself and its high profile identified source Bradley Manning. Also, based on multiple reports and unedited clips of Julian Assange’s own statements, his views at times hold a double standard, and at times lack empathy and cohesion. He is likely a bit anti-social and far from a saint.
However, all this is separate from the accomplishments of Wikileaks as an organization. Their position on politics has also been steadfast. They believe that free speech is paramount. They believe that governments have a right to their secrets, but that the people have the right to expose those secrets when abuse is suspected. That governments cannot be trusted to fully regulate themselves internally, and there must be a mechanism for external accountability.
If [employees] who say that there is some abuse going on and there’s not a proper mechanism for internal accountability and external accountability, they must have a conduit to get that out to the public. And we are the conduit.
– Julian Assange quote from 60 Minutes interview
We can argue whether we individually feel that the conduct of the US government in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in its intelligence and diplomacy has been abusive. Wikileaks states openly that we have the right to disagree and that the information is put out largely unedited so that we can formulate our own opinions. Whether or not you agree that the US acted improperly in any of these instances, it cannot be argued that information that Wikileaks published answered questions that critics have had about the US in international affairs since the beginning of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. In fact the New York Times and the Iraq Body Count have confirmed that the information that Wikileaks published confirmed an additional 15,000 deaths of Iraqi civilians that had previously gone unreported. While the government makes claims about how the release of War Logs has compromised national security, the true toll the war has had on innocent people was hidden from the public. Whether or not one agrees with the war, I hope no one can argue with our right to this sort of information.
The Embassy Cables that were released by Wikileaks are still have an impact on international politics, and are giving information to citizens of corrupt governments. Wikileaks is often credited with being a major ingredient in the crucible that led to uprising in Tunisia. Wikileaks gives hope that exposing the truth still has the power to change the world. While Wikileaks organizational structure and stance on information may have arguable flaws, they have still given rise to the whistle blowing movement of the digital age. They have paved the way for new organizations to form, and for the people to expect more from their media and governments.
Further Reading and Linked Sources:
- Wikileaks Homepage
- 60 Minutes Interview with Julian Assange
- PBS Frontline report on Assange and Manning
- The full story of rape charges against Julian Assange
- Unedited Frontline interview with Assange as posted by Wikileaks
- NY Times on Iraq War Log
- Iraq Body Count on information provided by Wikileaks
- The Answer to Wikileaks in the Words of Assange
- The Guardian: Tunisia and Wikileaks
I encourage everyone to do their own research, and read everything they can if this topic interests you. I also encourage a critical eye, as this is a topic fraught with bias and controversy.