Seven months ago Wikileaks promised to pay the legal fees for Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking the leaks that have proved so lucrative for Julian Assange. Better late than never, I suppose.
Or it would be if Assange (who has signed book deals deals worth $1.7m) had actually done as he had promised rather than just chucking a bit of spare change in the direction of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
“There has been an unconscionable failure [in conventional journalism] to protect sources,” said Assange, who clearly has no sense of irony, last July. “It is those sources who take all the risks… journalists don’t take their job seriously.”
Charlie Stross has an interesting take on the impact of the ongoing Wikileaks disclosure of US diplomatic cables:
Wikileaks is not attacking the US government; rather, it’s acting to degrade the ability of pressure groups to manipulate the US government to their own ends. Those who benefit the most from their ability to manipulate the State Department are the most angry about this: autocratic middle eastern leaders, authoritarian right-wing politicians, royalty, corporate cartels. Those of us who are scratching our heads and going “huh?” about the significance of Muammar Ghadaffi’s botox habit are missing the point: it’s not about the content, but about the implication that the powerful can no longer count on their ability to lie to the public without being called on it.
So is the Wikileaks expose nothing more than an embarrassment?
It should be. One of the essential prerequisites for any functioning democracy is an informed citizenry – we should know what our elected representatives are saying and doing and we should be able to respond to that information. While there is value in keeping the detail of some conversations (temporarily) confidential, we should be able to assume that the the broad thrust of those conversations is consistent with publicly stated positions.
If, in other words, the Western democracies are in a healthy state, Cablegate will lead to a few days of interest and several mildly embarrassing headlines but nothing we didn’t already know – or couldn’t have reasonably guessed.
If that’s not the case, however, we should remember that it’s not the messenger that deserves to be shot.