Wikileaks and Freedom of the Press

October 20, 2010 | Print Print |

Guillermo Fernandez Ampie

US troops in Afghanistan. Photo: wikimedia.commons.org

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 20 — An article in the Associated Press (AP) by Anne Flaherty that came out Monday reported on US Department of Defense officials requesting the American media to not publish any of the classified documents related to the war in Iraq that apparently will soon be released by the WikiLeaks whistle-blower website.

Though AP is not the most reliable source of information, what is certain is what was expressed in its report reveals the hypocrisy of the government and the American media in the face of this right so zealously demanded of other nations.

This double standard is exercised by the US especially in relation to those governments that do not submit to the policies of the United States government or to international financial organizations; nations are instead denigrated for attempting to make the interests and needs of their own people prevail over the profits of transnational corporations.  At the very least, this action by the Pentagon demonstrates the elasticity with which the US conceives of and practices freedom of the press.

The report confirms that Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters that the media should not disseminate “stolen” information even if it is already posted online by WikiLeaks.  The argument advanced by the official was that an organization like WikiLeaks should not be allowed to garner more credibility by using credible news organizations.

After making reference to documents related to the war in Afghanistan that were released this past July by WikiLeaks, it was reported that The New York Times omitted information from filtered documents that could have put military operations at risk or placed the lives of Afghan informants in jeopardy. Likewise, the British daily The Times also appears to have refused to provide a link to the WikiLeaks database.

US Army Photo on flikr.com

Similar decisions were made by the English daily The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel in refusing to reveal information they considered “sensitive.”

AP added that American defense secretary Robert Gates reported to the US Congress that the documents on Afghanistan leaked by the website did not reveal the most sensitive intelligence secrets, but that it had still put the interests of the United States at risk by exposing the names of some Afghans who have cooperated with the occupation forces.

Covering up civilian deaths

Despite the position of these media outlets, we must consider that one of the principal acts evidenced by the leaks made public by the NGO —whose most visible member is the organization’s Australian director, Julian Assange— is the policy of the American occupation troops and their allies in systematically covering up the deaths of innocent civilians.

The principal example of this was a video in which a crew of an American Army helicopter can be observed murdering an Iraqi photographer who was working for the Reuters news agency.  This makes it necessary to wonder if concealing the deaths of thousands of civilians is something that will prevent current or future military operations from being put at risk.  On the other hand, we must also wonder whether silencing those crimes contributes in any way to protecting the lives of the invading soldiers.

Such a presumption is ridiculous from all points of view.  Every time the lives of American soldiers and their followers have been put in danger it is for having invaded a country where they are not welcome; it is for their presence in a land with people who reject them.

In any event, the call by the Pentagon spokesperson, like the self-censorship by the media sources mentioned in the news cable, are additional examples of the complicity of those self-proclaimed objective and impartial media sources with the policies of militarism and the wars of aggression historically practiced by the United States and it accomplices.

And if others did the same thing?

What would the corporate owners of these media businesses and their professional employees say if the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia or Ecuador made a call to the owners of the major dailies of those countries not to publish information that they considered sensitive or that put their national interests at risk?  Would the owners of the mass media in Venezuela, Bolivia or Ecuador dare to abstain from publishing information that is “sensitive” or that puts in risk the national interests of their respective countries?

Kids in Afghanistan. Photo: The Advocacy Project, flickr.com

The question always puts on the table the controversial issue of the freedom of the press and national security.  To protect the national security of the United States, American citizens are now being urged to report all people or public activities that could be considered suspect, such as certain activities in airports where the loudspeakers constantly warn people not to make jokes related to terrorism or skyjacking or to mention the word “bomb,” since these can be reasons for a person’s arrest.

Isn’t this equal to asking people to spy on their neighbors or on the person to their side?  This means carrying out a practice similar to what the Cuban government and local organizations are constantly accused of and criticized for conducting?  Perhaps the American government should consult with the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (Cuba’s neighborhood and block organizations) to organize similar organizations that contribute to preserving and safeguarding the national security of the United States.

Perhaps this would lead to the end of the blockade with which the US has sought to suffocate the prevailing political system on the island for half a century in order to promote its own national interests and to punish the Cuban people for supporting their own.  At least this recent action by the Pentagon puts an end to the hypocritical demand that the Cuban government allow the exercise of freedom of the press, since the Cuban State has the same right to raise concerns over its national security and its national interests to justify its own policies.


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