New York, Saturday
WikiLeaks’ founder and defenders are pointing to the whistleblowing website’s actions concerning Kenya as proof of its positive role in the world.
Australian Julian Assange, the orchestrator of the slow release of thousands of confidential US diplomatic messages, said in an interview on Friday with London’s Guardian newspaper that WikiLeaks has been having a global impact since 2007 “when it changed the result of the Kenyan General Election.”
Assange has previously claimed that WikiLeaks’ release of the Kroll report on official corruption in Kenya brought about the defeat at the polls of all the politicians named in that leaked document.
Some commentators are also recalling that in 2009, Amnesty International gave Assange a media award for WikiLeaks’ publication of “The Cry of Blood: Extra-Judicial Killings and Disappearances.”
That report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, which had not previously been available in Kenya, documented the deaths or disappearances of some 500 young Kenyans in a police crackdown.
“The material was important,” Assange told journalism.co.uk in an interview in 2009. “It was difficult to get Western press attention to it. We ran it on our front page for a week. Most journalists didn’t care about it. Even regular (WikiLeaks) readers didn’t care about it.”
But the story was eventually picked up by London’s Sunday Times. And the commission’s findings were largely corroborated by Philip Alston, a special United Nations investigator.
But whatever contributions Assange may have made to the rule of law in Kenya, he is now under fierce attack from the US government and from some media sources as well for releasing State Department documents. Assange’s more extreme critics have called for him to be prosecuted for treason or even assassinated.
Likening Assange to a terrorist, conservative American politician Sarah Palin has asked why the US government has not pursued him “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”
Mike Huckabee, who sought the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2008, says Assange should be executed if found guilty of treason.
Some journalists have denounced Assange’s activities, arguing that WikiLeaks is trafficking in stolen material and is thus not protected by press-freedom guarantees.
But a few of the world’s most respected news organisations are closely cooperating with WikiLeaks in publishing the diplomatic cables.
The five media outlets that have obtained the full cache of more than 250,000 documents are choosing which ones are being released and in what form.
“They are releasing the documents we selected,” Le Monde managing editor Sylvie Kauffmann says in regard to WikiLeaks.
The five news organisations — which also include The New York Times, The Guardian, Spain’s El Pais and Germany’s Der Spiegel — are advising WikiLeaks on what redactions to make prior to release of any material, Kauffmann told the Associated Press.
Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, offered the same perspective in an online discussion with readers. Keller also made clear the Times’ view that some contents of the leaked cables should be withheld in order to protect individuals and US national security interests.
“We agree wholeheartedly that transparency is not an absolute good,” Keller wrote. “Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”
Keller has also indicated that the Times asked Obama administration officials to review some of the documents and to suggest excisions. The Times agreed to some of the officials’ recommendations but not to others, Keller wrote in a note to readers on the day the paper began reporting on what WikiLeaks refers to as “Cablegate.”
The release so far of only a tiny portion of the leaked material is causing acute embarrassment to the United States.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spent parts of the past few days apologising to the leaders of key countries for unflattering assessments in the documents beginning to be disclosed.
“Last Friday, she talked to China, Germany, France, the UK Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said on Thursday. “On Saturday, she talked to Canada. On Sunday, she talked to China again.”
US officials have also apologised to the Kenyan government for comments by American diplomats that have yet to be made public.
Some countries now appear disinclined to hold candid conversations with US officials, Crowley added. “We anticipate that for a period of time, some government officials that have talked to us freely in the past may be more reluctant,” he told reporters.
A few commentators are suggesting, however, that the cables so far indicate general convergence between stated US policy and what American diplomats say privately. There have yet to be any truly shocking revelations from “Cablegate,” these analysts maintain.
In the case of Kenya, for instance, Der Spiegel reported last week that the cables depict the country as “a swamp of flourishing corruption.” The German weekly added that “almost every single sentence in the embassy reports speaks with disdain of the government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.”