Despite threats, Wikileaks to continue with media insurgency

Despite threats, Wikileaks to continue with media insurgency

Last week, the US defence department demanded that Wikileaks remove from its website and return its ‘Afghan War Diary’, 92,000 documents on the controversial military campaign. Some 77,000 of these documents have been made public, another 15,000 have been put online but not released.

Wikileaks says it will open the second file if the US attempts to take action against the site. Washington could try to prosecute the website, crash its Swedish server, or arrest its founder and chief spokesman, Julian Assange, a globe-trotting Australian. Advisory board members whose identities are known could be targeted. Wikileaks, with only five employees, has hundreds of dedicated volunteers who intend to carry on.

The ‘New Yorker’ magazine rightly dubbed Wikileaks a ‘media insurgency’. But Wikileaks is not alone. There are many websites and blogs, some print and online newspapers and magazines, and, even a few satellite television channels involved in this insurgency. It is a revolt against newspapers, television channels, and electronic media that either go along with or promote the policies of governments and interest groups.

Informal and formal media insurgents are fighting on thousands of fronts for tens of thousands of causes from exposing wrong doing by governments and corporations, to fighting global warming and promoting good nutrition.

One positive result of the insurgency is that certain European governments — starting with Iceland and Sweden — are considering legislation which would accord additional protections to ‘whistleblowers’ and journalists.

Wikileaks commanded the attention of the world in April when it released classified US military video footage taken during an attack by a US helicopter on a Baghdad neighbourhood on July 12, 2007. Twelve Iraqis were killed, including two Reuters journalists. The film, entitled ‘Collatoral Murder,’ showed a group of men, two of whom seem to have been armed, leading the journalists, toting cameras, through the streets.
The helicopter crew were recorded rejoicing at fresh targets — even though there was no threat from the Iraqis — and sprayed them with machine gun bullets. After the initial bursts of fire, the crew killed one of the journalists as he was crawling on the ground toward a house and blasted a van about rescue him. The driver was killed and two children, visible through the windshield, were wounded. This video material — snapped up by major newspapers and websites — elicited a world-wide outcry against the US military’s treatment of Iraqi civilians.

Confirmed reports
This scoop was followed by July’s posting of the ‘Afghan Diary,’ including raw documentary material about the killing of Afghan civilians in US and allied operations and the cover-up by the military command. Other documents deal with corruption in the Afghan government and the double game being played by Pakistan which both backs and fights the Taliban. These documents are not ‘news’, they simply confirm reports flowing from the country.

Nevertheless, US defence secretary Robert Gates condemned Wikileaks and chief of the US joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, stated, “Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.”
The Pentagon has appointed 80 analysts to review the 77,000 leaked documents in order to identify key words that might reveal compromising information. A US officer based in Afghanistan said, “I can’t say we’ve seen any direct impacts here yet.”
Established by dissidents in the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa, Wikileaks first appeared in January 2007. Its declared aim is to expose repressive regimes in West Asia, Asia, Africa and the former Soviet bloc and reveal ‘unethical behaviour’ by governments and corporations. Wikileaks’ own start-up material consisted of 1.2 million documents. Only a small fraction of this total has been posted; sources are protected.

Wikileaks has published material on the US prison at Guantanamo, climate change, corruption and mass murder in Kenya, British banking scandals, and toxic dumping in Africa by a European firm. Last March, Wikileaks published a report, drafted by US military counterintelligence, that claimed the site was a possible threat and suggested means to deter officials from providing documents.

Following the publication of the Iraq video material, a young US army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning was arrested after being exposed by a hacker in whom he had confided. Manning is being investigated also by the US military as the likely leaker of the cache of Afghan documents now on line. But Manning’s plight is unlikely to deter others who believe that the truth must come out.

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