A series of unintentional though negligent acts by multiple parties -- WikiLeaks, The Guardian's investigative reporter David Leigh, and Open Leaks' Daniel Domscheit-Berg -- has resulted in the publication of all 251,287 diplomatic cables, in unredacted form, leaked last year to WikiLeaks (allegedly by Bradley Manning). Der Spiegel (in English) has the best and most comprehensive step-by-step account of how this occurred.
This incident is unfortunate in the extreme for multiple reasons: it's possible that diplomatic sources identified in the cables (including whistleblowers and human rights activists) will be harmed; this will be used by enemies of transparency and WikiLeaks to disparage both and even fuel efforts to prosecute the group; it implicates a newspaper, The Guardian, that generally produces very good and responsible journalism; it likely increases political pressure to impose more severe punishment on Bradley Manning if he's found guilty of having leaked these cables; and it will completely obscure the already-ignored, important revelations of serious wrongdoing from these documents. It's a disaster from every angle. But as usual with any controversy involving WikiLeaks, there are numerous important points being willfully distorted that need clarification.
Let's begin with the revelations that are being ignored and obscured by this controversy. Several days ago, WikiLeaks compiled a list of 30 significant revelations from the newly released cables, and that was when only a fraction of them had been published; there are surely many more now, including ones still undiscovered in the trove of documents (here's just one example). The cable receiving the most attention thus far -- first reported by John Glaser of Antiwar.com -- details a "heinous war crime [by U.S forces] during a house raid in Iraq in 2006, wherein one man, four women, two children, and three infants were summarily executed" and their house thereafter blown up by a U.S. airstrike in order to destroy the evidence. Back in 2006, the incident was discussed in American papers as a mere unproven "allegation" ("Regardless of which account is correct . . "), and the U.S. military (as usual) cleared itself of any and all wrongdoing. But the cable contains evidence vesting the allegations of Iraqis with substantial credibility, and that, in turn, has now prompted this:
"Iraqi government officials say they will investigate newly surfaced allegations that U.S. soldiers shot women and children, then tried to cover it up with an airstrike, during a 2006 hunt for insurgents.
"An adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Ali Al-Moussawi, said Friday the government will revive its stalled probe now that new information about the March 15, 2006, raid has come to light."
As usual, many of those running around righteously condemning WikiLeaks for the potential, prospective, unintentional harm to innocents caused by this leak will have nothing to say about these actual, deliberate acts of wanton slaughter by the U.S. The accidental release of these unredacted cables will receive far more attention and more outrage than the extreme, deliberate wrongdoing these cables expose. That's because many of those condemning WikiLeaks care nothing about harm to civilians as long as it's done by the U.S. government and military; indeed, such acts are endemic to the American wars they routinely cheer on. What they actually hate is transparency and exposure of wrongdoing by their government; "risk to civilians" is just the pretext for attacking those, such as WikiLeaks, who bring that about.That said, and as many well-intentioned transparency supporters correctly point out, WikiLeaks deserves some of the blame for what happened here; any group that devotes itself to enabling leaks has the responsibility to safeguard what it receives and to do everything possible to avoid harm to innocent people. Regardless of who is at fault -- more on that in a minute -- WikiLeaks, due to insufficient security measures, failed to fulfill that duty here. There's just no getting around that (although ultimate responsibility for safeguarding the identity of America's diplomatic sources rests with the U.S. Government, which is at least as guilty as WikiLeaks in failing to exerise due care to safeguard these cables; if this information is really so sensitive and one wants to blame someone for inadequate security measures, start with the U.S. Government, which gave full access to these documents to hundreds of thousands of people around the world, at least).