Friday, December 3, 2010

Truth as treason

I may not be a First Amendment absolutist, but I'm pretty close. I will allow that there are a few limited areas where national security trumps press freedom, but those should be quite narrow. Democracy depends on the citizenry having access to information, and few concerns should ever be allowed to top that principle.

In the four years of its existence, WikiLeaks has risen from nowhere to be a prominent shaper of news and information. Such is the way that technology affects us these days: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and now WikiLeaks begin as an idea or a few lines of code and soon the way we see and understand the world is changed permanently.

Julian Assange, the force behind the site, is a wanted man these days. In the wake of WikiLeaks latest revelation -- 250,000 cables of US State Department reports -- a number of governments are investigating the Australian nomad, while Swedish authorities want to talk to him about sexual assault charges he has called phony. It's hard to see how this guy survives unless he takes cover underground for a very long time.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul tweeted this today: "Re: Wikileaks - In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble." While Paul -- a hardcore libertarian -- and I would disagree on many issues, on this one we share similar views. The US government has too many secrets. I am for a default position of openness and transparency in all branches and at all levels of government. WikiLeaks may have embarrassed the US and some of its allies this week, but exposing some of the workings of the State Department is, overall, a good thing.

When US missiles hit targets in Yemen one year ago, for example, it is the right of Americans AND Yemenis to know where those weapons came from, especially when many of those killed in these attacks were civilians -- including 14 women and 21 children. WikiLeaks is not the institution that illegally invaded Iraq and that has been occupying Afghanistan for nine years. That would be the US government.

News that dropped WikiLeaks from its servers yesterday and that today a New Hampshire company killed the domain (find the site here, at after Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman made some threatening comments is quite disturbing. This is not the way we treat information in the United States -- with the government actively seeking to prevent Americans from reading the truth. We're moving -- if we haven't been there since the passage of the PATRIOT Act -- toward 1984 territory. In that prophetic novel, one of the dystopian government's slogans would seem to be one that the US is now embracing: "Ignorance is strength."

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