04 December 2010

WikiLeaks and collateral damage

Not only University of Calgary professor Tom Flanagan has suggested assassinating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. A variety of American politicians and media types express similar sentiments. And why do they entertain this murderous impulse? Well, according to Flanagan, "what he's doing is very malicious and harmful to diplomacy and endangering people's lives, and I think it should be stopped."

I might take the "harmful to diplomacy" part seriously if governments didn't tell us so many lies, but they do, so just once in a while I'd like to know what they are really up to on the international front. Endangering people's lives is another matter entirely. That we have to take very seriously indeed. It would not, however, seem people's lives are being endangered. Even the Pentagon admits they are not aware of a single mutilated body showing up as a result of WikiLeaks behaviour. One cannot, of course, say the same thing about U.S. behaviour in Iraq which has resulted in many mutilated bodies showing up.

But what if WikiLeaks disclosures did result in killings. There's a phrase for that, it's called "collateral damage." There has been a lot of that in Afghanistan. Entire wedding parties have been inadvertently blown up, scattering body bits of men, women and children across the landscape, as a result of NATO or American bombs landing where they really shouldn't have. Oddly, people like Flanagan, who express such concern about WikiLeaks, have little to say about that collateral damage.

I suppose it's a matter of the greater good. If the knowledge of international relations that WikiLeaks brings us is as important as whatever we are doing in Afghanistan, then it would justify as much collateral damage. Flanagan et al. would insist it isn't. Many others would insist it is. The point is you can't simply support censoring WikiLeaks on the basis it might result in innocent casualties. You have to prove the amount of benefit isn't worth the number of casualties. And that is obviously a matter of opinion.

However, seeing as Wikileaks' information deluge doesn't seem to be causing any casualties at all, except maybe a few diplomats' careers, it appears that so far the debate is strictly academic.

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