When Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, he did so with the intention to end what he viewed as a wrongful war in Vietnam. His leak, 7,000 pages long, brought to light to the American public that its government and leaders had been lying to them about Vietnam and had shrouded its unconstitutional activities in Cambodia, Laos and coastal North Vietnam in secrecy.
WikiLeaks has since trumped Ellsberg’s leak with its recent trove of documents and cables that have provided classified information ranging from the Iraq and Afghan wars to diplomatic cables about current U.S. foreign policies.
And since its 2006 debut, both WikiLeaks and its founder and Editor-In-Chief Julian Assange have been under attack.
WikiLeaks has reported multiple attempts to disrupt its servers and Assange has been under a media barrage of character assassination, primarily based on allegations of rape. Shortly after the Afghan Logs were released in late July, Swedish officials dropped the charges against him, only to reopen the case in early September. Assange has since surrendered himself to authorities in London and is now under arrest.
More noticeably, there have been shameful and repulsive efforts within the U.S. to disparage and cripple financial and hosting services to WikiLeaks, as companies like Amazon, Paypal, Mastercard and Visa have since ceased their services after succumbing to political pressure. These same companies offer their services to racially-driven sites like the Knights Party and Christian Concepts, both supported by the Ku Klux Klan, as reported by The Guardian’s technology editor, Charles Arthur.
And these companies are completely within their rights do business with companies and organizations that clash with current social norms because it preserves the promise and security of freedom of speech and press as protected under the First Amendment.
This political pressure comes after hundreds of documents have revealed sensitive and embarrassing details between U.S. dignitaries and their respective counterparts, a cry that has since turned to threatening our nation’s security.
Days after the Thanksgiving release of diplomatic cables, Long Island Republican Representative and incoming chair of the House Homeland Security chair Peter King sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging him and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to prosecute Assange for his role in providing the leak and working with Private Bradley Manning, who is allegedly responsible for providing WikiLeaks the classified information.
“By the sheer volume of the classified materials released, rendering harm to the United States seems inevitable and perhaps irreversible,” read King’s letter. “Moreover, the repeated releases of classified information from WikiLeaks, which have garnered international attention, manifests Mr. Assange’s purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
But those in higher chairs of government and involvement in areas like the military have dispelled this rhetoric. “Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on,” said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in response to the recent Wikileak dump. “I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not be- cause they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.”
WikiLeaks’ service has provided a window into how our government and those of the world operate, communicate and work together. And ,even more interesting, what they think of each other. The leaks behind the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are murmurs compared to the loud chatter disposed by cables reflecting diplomatic relations.
Since its inception, WikiLeaks has been criticized for amateurishly leaking sensitive information that has been privy to the media with little regard for possible consequences. No less, WikiLeaks was responsible for releasing video that shows the death of Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant Saeed Chmagh, 40, who were gunned down by a U.S. Apache helicopter on July 12, 2007.
WikiLeaks has also proven reporters who the Department of Defense criticized for “exaggerated reporting” factually accurate, as in the case of Ellen Knickmeyer, former Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief. On Feb. 22, 2006, Knickmeyer reported on the bombings in the city of Samarra, despite calls by leaders like then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claiming that such an event never occurred and that all was calm in Iraq at the time. The Samarra bombing and the events that followed amassed to more than 1,000 deaths.
WikiLeaks has also brought attention to how U.S. taxpayer money is being spent on private military contractors that engage in the practice of hiring local under-age prostitutes, as reported by David Isenberg of The Huffington Post. DynCorp, a private Virginia-based group that has received hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, hired both young boys and girls as prostitutes in Afghanistan. A U.S. diplomat brought this to Washington’s attention in fear of the story being leaked and labeled it as the “Kunduz DynCorp problem.”
Thus, the United States’ slow and gradual attempt of censorship towards WikiLeaks is a flagrant violation of the barest and most pure forms of democracy: Freedom of the press. The attempts to silence this important information that is pertinent to the American public has cast a call to defend said freedom.
Ellsberg has come out and publicly opposed the idea that “Pentagon Papers [were] good; WikiLeaks material [are] bad.”
“That’s just a cover for people who don’t want to admit that they oppose any and all exposure of even the most misguided, secretive foreign policy,” he said in a report for the Institute for Public Accuracy. “The truth is that every attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time.”
The Stony Brook Press was founded on the principle that standing up for certain values, even when it involves risks, is worth doing for the sake of preserving ideals and fostering change. One of the headlines on the very first issue of The Press reads “Racism Continues at Stony Brook.” The article, written by Chris Fairhall, covered an issue on campus that The Statesman had not and would not cover. This attitude has changed with time, as has the nature of the Press’ values and how it goes about conducting journalism.
But this recent firestorm against WikiLeaks is something we at The Press fervently oppose. And that is why we have decided to mirror the WikiLeaks site on our own website, at wiki.sbpress.com.
There are many reasons to denounce this decision or to think that it is somehow crossing a line of journalistic self-interest. Yes, hundreds of other websites are mirroring WikiLeaks and it is a valid point to consider it out of place for a journalistic outlet to support WikiLeaks. But the basis of The Press was to stand by these types of issues when others were too self-interested, politically motivated or too cowardly to stand for what they believe in.
Mirroring WikiLeaks is not about supporting the release of governmental secrets or a hatred of the level of security and secrecy cast around governmental operations. It is about respecting freedom of the press and not backing down when the government and its politically motivated corporate hands tell us we cannot use the Internet to access information that is both free and rightfully accessible.
Form your opinions on the decision as you will, but freedom of the press is something worth fighting for, even in principle, because of how significantly it maintains the foundations of intelligent discourse and civilized progress. As Ellsberg once said, “We were young, we were foolish, we were arrogant, but we were right.”