By Elle Stuart
Democracy is the system by which citizens invest their government with certain powers to act on their behalf, and by which they give up some freedoms for the general security guaranteed by that government. As active citizens in a democracy, we do have our rights–such as the rights to free speech, free press, and free practice of religion. But within that scope of freedom, there is also the responsibility to uphold the freedom and security of those around us. While on the surface, Julian Assange’s leaking of important political documents may be seen to be promoting the idea of transparency, and therefore democracy, in our government, WikiLeaks’ lack of discretion in the documents they released has compromised that very same democracy. Releasing information is democratic in the fact that it promotes the distribution of knowledge, but releasing classified and stolen documents crosses the line from democracy to danger.
No one claims that America is the perfect democracy. We do not have direct elections, and the power of government is bound within the limits of our Constitution. This Constitution guarantees our basic rights, but it is up to those who are under that government to live by the dictates that it sets forth. Yes, WikiLeaks did expose some issues that were previously swept under the rug, but to what good? Democracy does not depend on full exposure of every issue to the citizenry. It depends on the guarantee of fundamental rights and mutual security underneath a government that is elected by and for the people. Indeed, the good that WikiLeaks has done has been eclipsed by the harm that it has caused, not only for the country, but also for individuals.
The majority of the documents that have been leaked by WikiLeaks have been directly related both to the war in the Middle East and to diplomatic relations between the United States and countries around the world. According to Charles Krauthammer, the revelation of American military activity in Yemen, which was approved by the president and deputy prime minister, has received disapproval by some other factions in the country and has limited our ability to wage war against al-Qaeda in that country. This is especially dangerous due to the fact that the CIA believes that the group of al-Qaeda members in that country is the most active, and therefore poses the most danger, to both America and America’s allies. This revelation, and hundreds of others, have compromised the safety of both our troops and those that they are trying to protect.
In addition, Wikileaks is responsible for the release of a document that details the names of 100 Afghani information sources, therefore compromising their safety and that of their families. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared to reporters that “the truth is they [Wikileaks] might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family”. Currently, the man who stole this information, Private Bradley Manning, is being held in jail, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates is attempting to hold the director of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, on criminal charges under the Espionage Act. The fact that a criminal case is even being considered against Assange shows that what Wikileaks has become much more than just a normal press release with First Amendment guarantees; they have exposed documents that endanger the lives of our troops and our allies across the world with little regard to the consequences of their actions.
On the worldwide scale, Wikileaks has also done damage in its effect on America’s relation with the international community. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a press conference about the Wikileaks releases declared, “There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations.” She further went on to say that “such leaks tear at the fabric” of responsible government. These releases have prompted many to question whether the United States is trustworthy and have caused irreparable damage to tenuous relations between many nations around the world. Without trust, America cannot hope to maintain peaceful relations, which are essential both to our nation’s security and reliability moving forward.
Finally, even organizations that generally support Wikileaks, such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, declared that their lack of discretion in not changing the names of sources and in other journalistic flaws created problems in their methods of exposing information. Reporters Without Borders released a statement saying that “indiscriminately publishing 92,000 classified reports reflects a real problem of methodology and, therefore, of credibility. Journalistic work involves the selection of information. The argument with which you defend yourself, namely that WikiLeaks is not made up of journalists, is not convincing.”
In conclusion, even though Wikileaks may well be doing something that on the surface is beneficial to democracy, the way in which they have published the information and the harm that they have done both to individuals and to nations far outweighs the abstract good promised by the spread of classified information.