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Some Wikileaks Reading

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Critical writings on Wikileaks always seem to stir the hornet’s nest around these parts. So, in that spirit, here’s Sue Halperin reviewing a new documentary on Julian Assange, Risk, in the New York Review of Books:

Most egregious, perhaps, was Assange’s collaboration with Israel Shamir, an unapologetic anti-Semite and Putin ally to whom Assange handed over all State Department diplomatic cables from the Manning leak relating to Belarus (as well as to Russia, Eastern Europe, and Israel). Shamir then shared these documents with members of the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who appeared to use them to imprison and torture members of the opposition. This prompted the human rights group Index on Censorship to ask WikiLeaks to explain its relationship to Shamir, and to look into reports that Shamir’s “access to the WikiLeaks’ US diplomatic cables [aided in] the prosecution of civil society activists within Belarus.” WikiLeaks called these claims rumors and responded that it would not be investigating them. “Most people with principled stances don’t survive for long,” Assange tells Poitras at the beginning of the film. It’s not clear if he’s talking about himself or others.

Then there is the matter of redaction. After the Manning cache came in, WikiLeaks partnered with a number of “legacy” newspapers, including The New York Times and The Guardian, to bring the material out into the world. While initially going along with those publications’ policies of removing identifying information that could put innocent people in harm’s way and excluding material that could not be verified, Assange soon balked. According to the Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding in WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, their 2011 postmortem of their contentious collaboration with Assange on the so-called Afghan war logs—the portion of the Manning leaks concerning the conflict in Afghanistan—the WikiLeaks founder was unmoved by entreaties to scrub the files of anything that could point to Afghan villagers who might have had any contact with American troops. He considered such editorial intervention to “contaminate the evidence.”

“Well they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it,” Leigh and Harding report Assange saying to a group of international journalists. And while Assange has denied making these comments, WikiLeaks released troves of material in which the names of Afghan civilians had not been redacted, an action that led Amnesty International, the Open Society Institute, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to issue a joint rebuke. The group Reporters Without Borders also criticized WikiLeaks for its “incredible irresponsibility” in not removing the names. This was in 2010, not long after Poitras approached Assange about making a film.

This last part is interesting in light of my post of a few days ago. The first tracks with more general buzz that I was hearing back in 2010 about arrests and interrogations spurred by the cables.

Image by Coentor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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