Wikileaks – Who Cares?

Glenn Greenwald builds the case that bad boy hacker Adrian Lamo deliberately duped and betrayed Spc Bradley Manning, the young soldier notorious for having leaked the ‘Collateral Murder‘ video depicting an Apache helicopter crew gunning down unarmed civilians as they tried to aid a wounded journalist in Baghdad.

In the discussion on Slashdot, someone asks if this isn’t just a distraction from the real story?

That’s what’s bugging me here as well. Who cares how the footage was released? The important thing is WHY we have soldiers killing unarmed civilians.

I do. I care a lot. Why does someone have to face a lifetime in prison just to allow us to discuss ‘WHY we have soldiers killing unarmed civilians’?

Greenwald posits that ‘distractions’ like Manning’s may actually be deliberately manifestations of Pentagon Policy.

Whatever the merits of that argument, the fact that someone had to break the law to show a commonplace incident in the so-called War on Terror can be viewed as a sad commentary on the state of censorship in our time, or (if you’re an optimist) an affirmation that, despite a culture of secrecy, information really does want to be free.

In either case, Greenwald’s conjecture is that Manning really was genuinely motivated by his conscience and that his ‘confessor’ Lamo rewarded his honesty with lies, venality and betrayal. I find his case as presented compelling but not conclusive.

Greenwald’s larger point about wikileaks, however, is, I think, irrefutable:

The reason this story matters so much — aside from the fact that it may be the case that a truly heroic, 22-year-old whistle-blower is facing an extremely lengthy prison term — is the unique and incomparably valuable function WikiLeaks is fulfilling. Even before the Apache helicopter leak, I wrote at length about why they are so vital, and won’t repeat all of that here. Suffice to say, there are very few entities, if there are any, which pose as much of a threat to the ability of governmental and corporate elites to shroud their corrupt conduct behind an extreme wall of secrecy.

As others will no doubt suggest, whistle blowers should understand the consequences of their actions, accepting the sometimes inevitable retribution that follows in order to serve the public good. That does not, however, excuse what Greenwald characterises as ‘despicable’ behaviour by Lamo. If this account proves true, then Lamo really is a sick, sorry individual.

I find this whole story compelling precisely because it demonstrates the stakes involved in something as simple as telling the truth. Secrecy and Transparency both are costly and dangerous when we wander too far towards either end of the continuum.

Stories like Manning’s allow us the opportunity to gauge where we are in that continuum and the price of remaining there.