A student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago was gracious enough to invite me to speak on a panel on Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks, which he had to put together for his "Media, Ethics and the Law" class. I participated in the panel Wednesday morning.
In addition to myself, the student informed me Timothy McNulty, a foreign editor for the Chicago Tribune who covered the Iraq invasion and the Afghanistan War, and Paul Rosenzweig, Carnegie Visiting Fellow and former Department of Homeland Security official, would be participating. A couple of student journalists would speak during the panel as well.
McNulty and Rosenzweig were both present in the classroom where the panel was held. I was in The Nation Magazine office in Manhattan, New York.
The student who organized the panel had me call in and put me on speakerphone. I was able to listen to what McNulty and Rosenzweig were saying.
Rosenzweig began the panel saying with assurance there isn't any doubt the material WikiLeaks has released has caused risks. He said lists have been created of people who were listed in the documents--lists featuring the names of informants--and the Taliban has been hunting these people down.
Rosenzweig cited a Zimbabwe opposition leader who many believe to be endangered as another example of the risks WikiLeaks' releases have created. He said there are good laws on secrecy, files released contained information on whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, and he has no problem with Manning being prosecuted.
McNulty agreed. And I was greatly disturbed by the falsehoods that McNulty let stand and made certain that I was able to comment.
I corrected what Rosenzweig said about there being no doubt that there has been harm to people was "pretty false." There is significant doubt as to whether people have been harmed. I don't know if there is a concrete conclusion on how many people have suffered or died as a result of the releases.
I noted the following: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on October 17, 2010 "the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure." A senior NATO official on that same day said, "There has not been a single case of Afghans needing protection."
I added the Associated Press reported, "There is no evidence that any Afghans named in the leaked documents as defectors or informants from the Taliban insurgency have been harmed in retaliation." And Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said on August 11, 2010, "We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents."
On the opposition leader mentioned, I noted how absurd it was to suggest that WikiLeaks be held responsible for the fact that there is a despot in Zimbabwe who might want an opposition leader killed because WikiLeaks released information. The information might allow for a movement to ignite that could topple the government targeting this opposition leader. And, if the information doesn't, WikiLeaks should not be held liable.
The discussion continued with Rosenzweig saying Bradley Manning is not a journalist (I know few people who have suggested he is a journalist) and he is a "common criminal who broke his promise" and should go to jail. He also added Julian Assange is not a journalist (which may be debatable but he is a publisher so he most certainly should be afforded the protections under the law that journalists are granted).
Rosenzweig also stated not a whole lot of stories have come from WikiLeaks, Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers cannot be compared to Manning's alleged release of classified information to WikiLeaks, and "information dumping" is not whistleblowing.
On the Pentagon Papers, I was able to explain that Ellsberg has said the legal situation here is murky, controversial and uncertain. It is far from settled law that any law was broken and that there should be any law. And, on Bradley Manning, I suggested Manning was a whistleblower and not a leaker because leakers release the identities of CIA agents or often are engaged in misconduct or are intent to profit. Whistleblowers on the other hand would like to the public to pay attention to what they are disclosing and face much higher risks than leakers.
The panel ended with each person saying whether they found Manning to be a national security threat. I suggested that he wasn't and urged anyone listening who wasn't already corrupted by deference to state power to consider how Manning's case fits into the Obama Administration's war on whistleblowing (which led Rosenzweig to say people shouldn't paint what is going on with a "broad brush").