Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wikileaks, the Military, and Accountability

In case you haven't heard, wikileaks, a website that publishes anonymous leaks of sensitive government/organizational documents (which Spoon blogger Falcon wrote about a few months back), has come under fire lately. In this age of government secrecy, a website like this is pretty important. It recently put out a horrifying video, leaked from the U.S. military, showing an attack on July 12, 2007 in Baghdad that killed 12 people, including two Reuters news staff. None of those killed were seen as hostile. The story obviously got a lot of media attention, and has drawn the ire of many, including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who called the release irresponsible, stating that wikileaks has no accountability. A secret report from the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center goes so far as to call wikileaks a threat to the military.

Accountability...that's an interesting word to use. It is particularly ironic, because, if anything, I'd say the military doesn't seem to be accountable for its actions. This terrifying video shows the cold-blooded murder of unarmed civilians. The official story from the Pentagon was that the helicopter fired because it was itself under fire. The video shows that this is clearly not the case, and the conversation between the troops makes that point, too. Nothing in the records show that U.S. forces were under fire at all. This appears to be a complete fabrication, and a case of the military trying to cover its ass. Some legal experts suggest that the crew may have acted illegally.

Is releasing information a threat? Really? Particularly when that information shows the military, a government, or an organization/business acted with duplicity, and possibly illegally? Of course, the military establishment and government officials attacked wikileaks, because it makes them look bad. That's not surprising. It's just odd that they use "accountability" as the source of their attack.

I do agree that, oftentimes, websites put information up that is completely false, or problematically skewed, and don't face any repercussions for their actions. Hell, that's our mainstream press today, to some extent. But here's the thing...wikileaks didn't manufacture this video. It's real. The documents and footage that go on its site are real.

The reason we have a need for leaks like this is the increasingly secretive nature of governments. They do everything to cover their collective asses on seemingly everything. It'd be one thing if this video was leaked solely to fan the flames over this incident. That's the issue. Nobody did anything about this when it happened. Gates thought it would just go away. Some argue the military did not sufficiently investigate this, and other, instances where journalists were killed, or did not publicly disclose its findings. Some international law and human rights experts also think the killings in the wikileaks video could be war crimes. These are all quite serious issues. At the very least, the military should have been far more active in investigating this incident, along with others.

Instead, they assumed it would just go away and now that they are being pressed on it, they're getting defensive. Nobody was punished for this, nobody outside the military seems to have investigated this, and Gates sure as hell seems disinterested in dealing with it. Hence, his ridiculous response to the video. If there's anyone who seems to lack accountability at this point, its the military leadership.
The soldiers in the video themselves seem to be more interested in making things right than the military leadership, which isn't necessarily that surprising.

The reason we need websites like wikileaks is because those in power seem disinterested in holding anyone accountable for their horrific mistakes, and our press isn't up to the task like they used to be (which has a lot to do with the political economy of the mass media, but that's a whole different topic). Yeah, maybe wikileaks is a threat to the military. But maybe that's a good thing. If Gates et. al. aren't interested in accountability, somebody needs to pick up the slack.

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