Wikileaks: The war of words

25 October 2010 – Presseurop ()

The publication of more than 400,000 documents by the WikiLeaks website and several major newspapers has shed light on day-to-day events in the field, but much of the European press is critical of the manner in which this information is presented to the public.

After Afghanistan, Iraq. On 23 October, WikiLeaks, relayed by the New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and the Guardian, published more than 400,000 secret US military documents on the situation in Iraq since the country was invaded in 2003.

“This is the everyday war as it happens on street corners and at military check-points, described in unflustered and lapidary reports penned by American soldiers,” remarks Le Monde. “It is the account of widespread violence in a time of war and occupation.” The French daily acknowledges that the documents “only present part of the truth.” They do not contain “anything about the arrest of overthrown dictator Saddam Hussein, or the death of the al-Qaida leader in Iraq, Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”

“Wikileaks is taking the law into its own hands”

On its front cover, Der Spiegel points out that after 100,000 deaths, there is “still no peace,” and wonders: “Has it been worth it?” For Volkskrant, although the documents “contribute to a history of the war in Iraq, they will not make a complete rewriting of history necessary. And from this point of view, the WikiLeaks scoop is of limited value.”

Like many European papers, the Dutch daily is critical of the approach adopted by the site directed by Julian Assange. “For the somewhat mysterious whistle-blowing website, the publication of sensitive information appears to be an end in itself,” argues Volkskrant. “Wikileaks claims to guarantee the anonymity of its sources” but “it gives the real names of members of the Iraqi security forces [who have violated prisoners’ rights] thereby exposing them to reprisals. In so doing, Wikileaks is taking the law into its own hands.”

For The Times, “WikiLeaks is concerned with the exposure of one side only: the forces attempting to extirpate tyranny in Iraq rather those trying to restore it.” And the London daily believes that this position is not only biased but also irresponsible: “Nowhere in WikiLeaks’s self-serving self-publicity is there a judgment of what the organisation is achieving for the Iraqi nation, and what it hopes to achieve. The organisation is not a neutral conduit serving the public interest. Its personnel are partisans intervening in the security affairs of Western democracies and their allies, with a culpable heedlessness of human life.”

“Wikileaks serves the cause of democracy”

In Germany, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wonders if the simultaneous publication of so many documents “amounts to the long-awaited ‘truth about the war’ or a mass of absurd data?” For the conservative daily, the “400,000 documents, new allies and its enormous presence in the media raise the question of how Wikileaks will continue.” It also notes that Wikileaks has been criticised for the practice of “giving priority to American sources, and blocking contributions from anonymous whistleblowers, who are unable to access its website, which is offline for months at a time.”

But in spite of everything, Berliner Zeitung argues that “Wikileaks serves the cause of democracy” by forcing it to confront some of its darkest moments, and defend against authoritarian censorship, “which is why the Chinese government is so alarmed by the announcement of the possible launch of local version of WikiLeaks in China.” For the Financial Times, governments should realise that the information revolution spawned by Wikileaks is not about to be rolled back. “Technology makes it ever harder to shield populations from the consequences of armed conflicts. If there was a time when the horrors could be hidden, it is over.”

The business daily warns that “greater transparency may ultimately make it harder to go to war. But it means the public should be willing to endure the demands of wars they do accept.” In a similar vein, the Danish daily Politiken points out that ”the decision to go to war — and we are not talking about a defensive war — is so serious and replete with such horrible consequences that it must be tested on every level.”

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