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WikiLeaks: Time to Celebrate, Time to Mourn

By       Message Jeff Cohen     Permalink
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It's time to celebrate.

It's a big win for Internet-based indy media that posted its "Afghan War Diary" based on 90,000 leaked U.S. military records detailing a failing war in which U.S. and allied forces have repeatedly killed innocent civilians. This on-the-ground material is vaster than the Daniel Ellsberg-leaked Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, and was much faster in reaching the public.

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Thanks to the Internet and new technologies, it's easier than ever for a whistle blower to anonymously leak documents exposing official abuses and deception, easier to copy and disseminate vast quantities of material, and easier for journalists and citizens to cull through all the data.

I spent hours with Dan Ellsberg this weekend at the Progressive Democrats meeting in Cleveland, where he spoke after a screening of the brilliant documentary, ["The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers"]

In 1971, it was Henry Kissinger who called Ellsberg "the most dangerous man in America." The movie shows how Ellsberg (aided at times by his own kids and pal Tony Russo) laboriously copied 7,000 pages of classified high-level documents which exposed that every president from Truman to Johnson had publicly lied about Vietnam. It took many months before a newspaper published the documents and much longer before they all were gathered in a book.

Today, the "most dangerous man in the world" may be Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. At least that's how he's seen by the various governments that have threatened to prosecute him for revealing their secrets. But as a stateless and office-less news organization operating in cyberspace, WikiLeaks is almost untouchable.

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Throughout this decade of war, Ellsberg has been an evangelist beseeching government employees to engage in leaking and ["unauthorized truth telling"]. His prayers have now been partially answered with Assange boasting that the 2004-2009 Afghan war logs constitute "the most comprehensive description of a war to have ever been published during the course of a war."

The Internet has changed the game since the Pentagon Papers, says Assange: "More material can be pushed to bigger audiences, and much sooner."

If Ellsberg is the most important whistle-blower in U.S. history, Internet activist Assange is probably the most important aider-and-abetter of whistle-blowers using technology that Ellsberg couldn't have imagined as he labored over his now ancient Xerox machine.

Launched less than four years ago with a focus on helping Chinese dissidents, the [donation-supported] WikiLeaks has continuously posted material embarrassing to business and governments. In April, WikiLeaks posted horrific video of a 2007 U.S. Apache gunship attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen civilians, including two Reuters journalists.

The video leak led to the jailing of 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning suspected now in the Afghan leak. To its credit, WikiLeaks is raising money for Manning's defense.

This is also a time to mourn.

Because some things don't seem to change like endless war, based on deceit.

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Nearly forty years after the Pentagon Papers were leaked by Democratic military analyst Ellsberg, a Democratic White House seems bent on public deception and cheer leading on behalf of an immoral war that can't be won.

Team Obama decided to escalate the Afghanistan folly, knowing all that the public now has access to thanks to WikiLeaks such as NATO killing of [so many civilians] ("blue on white" events); Task Force 373, a ["black" special forces unit] that sometimes kills kids or Afghan allies as it hunts down insurgents; widespread Afghan animosity toward U.S. forces; allied troops firing on each other ("blue on blue" incidents); a steady increase in Taliban attacks.

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Jeff Cohen is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he is an associate professor of journalism. He founded the progressive media watch group FAIR in 1986.

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