The Release of U.S. Documents via WikiLeaks: A Preservation of Democracy

By Claire Wilson '13Staff Writer

It is easy to become trapped inside the Claremont College bubble. I am not referring to the physical trap of students who rarely leave campus because they do not have a car, but rather the mental trap of forgetting to acknowledge the world outside of our one-square mile college campus. If you read any media source right now, Wikileaks has dominated news coverage in the United States and international community. However, it absolutely shocks me that when I bring up the topic in conversation with my peers, the majority of students have never heard about Wikileaks. As educated citizens, it is our duty to be informed and updated about current world news, especially regarding such a contentious and significant issue.

Wikileaks is an international media source with an online database that publishes secret information about governments and corporation. The organization was founded three years ago by Julian Assange—an Australian journalist and activist—whose role in the disclosure of classified government documents has sent him running from legal action by the U.S. government. He is currently suspected to be residing in England, but his location is unknown. The organization has a small core staff and an additional alleged 800 to 1,000 workers that aid in encrypting, programming and writing news releases. Wikileaks’ methods for accessing these highly classified documents is currently under investigation, but one principal alleged contributor for the release of information is an army intelligence analyst named Bradley E. Manning. At 22 years old, this young man has contributed to one of the greatest “information scandals” in United States history. And the astonishing fact is that given his age, he could be a Claremont College student.

Wikileaks formatively came to the American public’s attention from the release of the War Logs, which published enlightening insight on the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq. 77,000 documents were published in July concerning Afghanistan and following that, almost 400,000 documents were printed regarding Iraq in October. Among the major revelations were many instances of the U.S. military deliberately ignoring detainee abuse by Iraqi allies and a hidden 15,000 civilian-casualty count. Was the United States government really trying to hide this information from the public? Yes.

Beginning on Nov. 28, Wikileaks has again been put under the media spot light, for its new release of a massive cache of diplomatic cables. Diplomatic cables are confidential messages between diplomats in embassies or consulates abroad, and the public’s new access to them has allowed an unprecedented awareness of conversations between world leaders. With current access to one-quarter million diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department, Assange has announced that Wikileaks will gradually release these documents in the following months.

Does Wikileaks pose a threat to U.S national security or preserve democracy? The U.S. government is infuriated with Wikileaks, deeming that the organization is treasonous and endangers the safety of the American public. However, the U.S. government’s demand for secrecy deserves questioning. I want to remind you that this is not the United State’s first experience with the public gaining access to top secret government information. The Pentagon papers released during the Vietnam War provided U.S. citizens with horrific details on the raids and bombing by the U.S. in Cambodia. Also, let’s not forget reporter Bob Woodward’s investigation of the Watergate scandal and coverage of Nixon’s attempt to break into the Democratic National Committee. The release of the Wikileaks documents has brought crucial discourse to the transparency of the United States government and foreign policy. As U.S. citizens, our tax dollars pay for these diplomatic operations abroad. I argue that the access to information that Wikileaks provides Americans upholds a genuine democracy, with rightly informed citizens. However, I encourage you do your own research on Wikileaks, form your own opinions and engage in substantive debates with your peers about this formative issue.

Related: The Dangers of Classified Documents When Released