Sunday, October 24, 2010

Financial Times Sees Evil, Hears Evil...

...thinks WikiLeaks should shut up about it.

The Financial Times has a respectful request on its website not to cut and paste its original material. I've chosen to ignore this request in order to Fisk them in the public interest. So sue me.

Wikileaks: Lifting the fog of battle
Published: October 24 2010 20:41 | Last updated: October 24 2010 20:41

This weekend’s leak of confidential military files on the Iraq war – which follows similar disclosures earlier this summer about the Afghan conflict – is deeply embarrassing for the US government.

While the logs themselves reveal little that was not known or widely suspected, they leave Washington (and its allies) with awkward questions to answer about US and allied conduct during and after the war. The disclosures push unambiguously under the public’s nose the human cost of the conflict, and the compromises to human rights that were involved in waging it.

The scale of the leak is also a reminder of the extent to which network computing has changed the way information is used. This should force governments to rethink the nature of state secrets.

Thus far, Washington has concentrated its fire on Wikileaks, the online clearing house that released the logs. Any organisation that encourages illegal behaviour cannot be beyond reproach. Wikileaks’ Afghan disclosures put people in danger, and it remains to be seen whether it has redacted its Iraqi cache more diligently. Wikileaks may argue that its activities are an extension of traditional journalism, but its organisational structure – designed to be beyond the reach of any jurisdiction’s enforcement – breeds dangerous editorial irresponsibility.

I can't believe I'm reading this. WikiLeaks is doing the job the Financial Times should be doing. This isn't an extension of journalism, it's real journalism. If you're going to admonish Assange for "illegal behaviour", you might want to recall Article 6 of the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal, August, 1945:

"(a) CRIMES AGAINST PEACE: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;"

However governments should realise that the information revolution which spawned Wikileaks is not about to be rolled back. Technology makes it ever harder to shield populations from the consequences of armed conflicts. If there was a time when the horrors could be hidden, it is over.

The whole point of this leak is that the American and British governments have gone out of their way to hide the effects of their chosen armed conflicts on the civilian populations.

One lesson is that governments must focus on the secrets it is vital to keep lest they lose their effectiveness in war – such as strategic and tactical plans, and information about weapons systems. Trying to protect everything, including the incompetent (or even illegal) conduct of one’s own troops, is probably fruitless and will only spur citizens’ desire to snoop.

Snoop? I thought international criminal law now required citizens to be interested and involved in what their own governments are doing. This is snooping?

There are wider lessons for the way governments resort to force too. Increasing transparency on the battlefield means that the public must be convinced both of the necessity for war, and of the cause being fought for, if the fight is to be sustained. The ebbing of support for Iraq was a consequence of the cavalier way that war was entered into.

So if the war could be sustained without the public being "convinced both of the necessity for war, and of the cause being fought for" then everything would be fine?

Greater transparency may ultimately make it harder to go to war. But it means the public should be willing to endure the demands of wars they do accept.

Agh! Goldsmith said in the House of Lords:

"The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith) My Lords, it is well established that the conduct of foreign affairs and defence policy are matters that fall within the Royal prerogative. It would, therefore, be lawful and constitutional for the Government, in exercising the Royal prerogative, to make a declaration of war or to engage United Kingdom forces in military action without the prior approval of Parliament."

As far as I can see, there was never a consensus among the British public that accepted the Iraq War. WikiLeaks is doing heroic and largely unpaid service in exposing the evils of arbitrary government that are well known, of which the Iraq invasion is a startling example, and that a free press like the Financial Times is supposed to expose.

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