Point: WikiLeaks empowers the public with knowledge


When I first heard of Julian Assange I was sceptical to say the least. A champion of the truth; revealing the dark mysteries that evil empires all over the world struggled to keep concealed. It is straight from the minds of the best Hollywood plot writers.

But wait! It gets even more dramatic. These powerful forces want him out of the way. He hides and they accuse him of unrelated criminal charges, while gathering their minions to establish an international warrant for his arrest. Cue the gripping, theatrical music and epic fight scenes.

My opinion? Rather than accuse him of being a sex offender (which has yet to be ruled upon) or rail on his wild, dangerous persona, consider the implications of the enigma Assange has created: WikiLeaks. As the face of the legendary whistleblower website, which released thousands upon thousands of secret cables never meant to see public eye, I do think he’s a bit crazy.

But he’s exactly what we need.

The foundation of the zealous debate around Julian Assange is on his decision to release information that may have been obtained illegally and is not meant for public eye. Now, for those who don’t know, these documents divulge some of the most explosive situations in the world in more detailed context: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the unreliability of Pakistan’s military forces and the ridiculously fortified North Korea. Previously, WikiLeaks had also been involved in the publication of material describing Guantanamo Bay procedures, the 2007 Baghdad air strike video, as well as documents of extrajudicial killings in Kenya.

Should he have released documents of such exposing nature? Let me pose it to you in this way. Let’s say Assange decided not to publish these cables. He considered the results of discharging such information and determined that in doing so, he will endanger the government’s ability to protect and aid American interests. The world would continue to believe that our biggest issue in the Middle East was the Israel-Palestine conflict, that there is nothing to worry about in Pakistan with extremist groups and that Iran’s interest in nuclear weapons is unfounded.

Ignorance is bliss.

I’m aware the circulation of these secret cables can threaten what little stability we have in this world. Although a disconcerting notion, we have to consider the alternative. And ignorance is just that much more unsettling.

We are largely better informed on serious worldwide political issues because of WikiLeaks. The Chinese did not know what was going on with Kim Jong-il’s nuclear program. The U.S. didn’t know if the government doubted Pakistan’s ability to suppress radical groups in their country. And no one was sure if Ahmadinejad’s government did indeed obtain those so called BM-25 missiles from North Korea.

Now, we do know. We all hypothesized and contemplated it, but now we know for sure.

I know you’re asking, so what? So what if Assange was able to arm his readers with knowledge and shatter existing dogmas about the most critical events in the world. What can that really do? To that, I say, what can it not do? Public knowledge puts pressure on governments to act or not act. It forced them to think more critically, especially when the world’s eyes are upon them.

That’s not all. Knowledge not only provides information you don’t know, but debunks those you think you know. Conspiracy theorists can contend to that one. Many paranoid thoughts of the sinister and malevolent workings in US foreign policy are disproved with the WikiLeaks release of cables.

To point this out, Americans have been public about their desire for a strong relationship with China, but was worried China’s economic policies would be damaging to American workers. Turns out, that’s exactly what they worry about behind closed doors as well. Many Chinese nationalists have developed elaborate theories about American plots to stop China’s rise, but with WikiLeaks information, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Assange has really just enunciated the fact that the release of information isn’t always a dangerous thing. Rather, the release of information can promote conversation and solutions.

There is an argument that this information is crippling our government’s ability to speak openly on critical issues. Yet, the much more dangerous option is keeping the public blind. To put this into context, what if we had published evidence that proved Bush’s administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was actually groundless? Would America really have declared war on Iraq?

I don’t have an answer on what the effect of a transparent government would have on a population that usually doesn’t pick up a newspaper anyway. But I know my answer. I would rather know.

Read Opinion Editor Eric Merkley’s Counterpoint here.

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