The Black Commentator: An independent weekly internet magazine dedicated to the movement for economic justice, social justice and peace - Providing commentary, analysis and investigations on issues affecting African Americans and the African world.
Dec 9, 2010 - Issue 405

What the WikiLeaks Controversy Really Means for "Freedom of the Press"
Between the Lines
By Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, PhD
B Columnist



The biggest leak of confidential U.S. government papers is being debated in the public, and some are calling it a betrayal of the country’s security position as backroom conversation shows questionable practices of our government. The “WikiLeaks” controversy has raised the question, “Is Government security bigger than freedom of the press, or is freedom of the press bigger than government security?

The public trust runs deep as it relates to the American people’s view of government. We trust that government will do whatever is necessary to defend our democracy and maintain its stability. And we trust that as “defenders of the free world,” our government will do what is right to insure our global position is right, philosophically and morally.

Part of the practice of foreign relations policy is the absence of transparency that insures government is acting correctly and is being held accountable for its actions in defending our democracy. One reason we are able to hold our government accountable, at all, is because of the watchdog role of the press and our right to say that government isn’t always right (Right to Petition Government). So why is WikiLeaks viewed by some as a betrayal of government trust?

The WikiLeaks website posted thousands of confidential memos about the government’s negotiations in two highly questionable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - some of which show American diplomats in critical and compromising conversations that, in the opinion of some, make America look either weak or manipulative. Others show America resisting manipulation by other countries. Thus is the process of foreign policy negotiation.

The American people’s trust was truly tested as to the necessity of both wars, but in the aftermath of a domestic terrorist attack was tolerated as being necessary to defend the democracy. The absence of reason, coupled with the presence of fear, equates to free reign for our government. Any questioning of principal or practice as it relates to diplomacy (or the absence of it) and foreign relations engagement historically brings the wrath of the government and the anti-patriotism jacket that no one enjoys wearing.

Wiki-Leak “spokesman,” Julian Assange, who was arrested this week in Switzerland on matters unrelated to the leak (what a coincidence?), is bearing the brunt of the leak scrutiny and most certainly will be harassed until a court defends his “freedom of the press” rights. They say “all is fair in love and war,” however, does that mean the American people are not supposed to know the diplomacy engagements of its government or call into question the integrity of its practices? At what point does government answer to the people (beyond the simplicities of voting and referendum legislating)?

These questions were raised forty years ago when the Pentagon Papers were leaked in 1971, and Daniel Ellsberg’s first amendment press rights were defended by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Pentagon Papers revealed our government’s 22-year involvement in Viet Nam and the fact that President Lyndon Johnson had lied to the public and to Congress about the negotiations with the Viet Cong and exaggerated the need to escalate the war.

The freedom of the press protects anonymity in political discourse when government has violated the public’s trust. Government cover-ups are more common than it, or the public, wants to admit. The public tends to turn a blind eye when it comes to the complexities of foreign relations, as long as our government gets it done, to the favor of the American people. The blind eye becomes blind trust in this case. Fast forward forty years later, and we see our government not being truthful about the death tolls of Iraqis and Afghanis that reaches into the millions, and the public seeing that, in an unpopular war, the “collateral damage” on both sides of war as not being worth the toll.

WikiLeaks, similarly to the Pentagon Papers, raises issue with the government’s disclosures of the war and the conflicts that the documents present as it relates to how we have come to understand our government’s philosophical approach of political realism. Do we have the right to ask the question, from time to time, “Is our government lying to us?” Disclosing confidential documents that undermine our government’s security is not advocated by any means and traitors should be jailed. Disclosing dishonesty in government practices by confidential leaks is a responsibility of the press. Government agencies (particularly the FBI and CIA) use leaks to discredit those they don’t like or who they see as threats to the public disclosures of government betrayal. Why should the press not be able to do the same when it becomes obvious that government has not been forthcoming in its dealing and has violated the public trust? That’s what the WikiLeaks debate is really about. Columnist, Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, PhD is a national columnist and author of Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is Click here to contact Dr. Samad.