Wikileaks and Bloody Sunday: 21 June 2010

The two are not linked. I’m just going to deal with them in one post, rather than two.

They are linked by this quote, in a small way:

“Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem – John Galsworthy”.

To start with, I don’t have a horse in either of these races; they just struck me as interesting examples of their kind. They are, of course, controversial at the moment.

Wikileaks –

I first came across this site in 2008, on the recommendation of a colleague, and couldn’t believe what I saw. It seemed entirely incongruous to me that a site was able to post scanned copies of documents (official and secret) on the web without some kind of judicial retribution being visited upon them. But they have continued to operate, occasionally losing their web-presence to domain controllers or to a lack of funds, but only very briefly.

They have recently come to prominence (and highlighted on these pages) with their distribution of the video of an American apache helicopter dealing with suspected insurgents. More recently they have been allegedly in receipt of 200,000 documents from a US military insider (although they appear to deny this, or claim they don’t think they have.. it’s not clear) which is said to provide a great deal of potentially awkward information about American diplomacy with Middle Eastern states.

Wikileaks has framed itself as a public regulator of governments and public bodies (they seem to have a particular thing about scientologists incidentally). And their activities can be captured by Richard Aldrich’s phrase ‘regulation by revelation’. But to what extent does wikileaks perform a public good, or a threat to the security of the governments it exposes?

Well, the cop-out answer is that it depends on the issue. The targeted challenge to their activities is whether internal Parliamentary and equivalent oversight of government activities have failed(?), and whether the regular media has also failed in this oversight role – I think particularly to the NY Times and its reports on rendition etc, and Dana Priest’s reports about the so-called ‘ghost flights’. For wikileaks to be given widespread support, don’t both of these questions have to be answered negatively?

The wikileaks people have managed to persuade the Icelandic parliament to pass a law making Iceland a haven for journalistic freedom .. Iceland is having a somewhat difficult two years with the rest of the governments of the west; are we actually in some kind of conflict with Iceland that we don’t know about?

The founder of wikileaks, Julian Assange, is said to be in fear of arrest by US authorities particularly as the website is said to be about to release video footage of the death of a good number of Afghan citizens. What seems to be missing from the public reporting of this issue is detail about wikileaks, and what their political agenda is. In the David vs Goliath struggle that wikileaks portrays itself in being in.. it would be nice to know whether we’re wise to give David a fair go. What’s more is that there appears to be a greater sensitivity within the mainstream press about protecting some state secrets that come into their hands; it would be interesting to see some analysis done on whether wikileaks has exercised responsibility (formalised, systematic responsibility) on this issue.

For me, I liked the site when I first came across it. Now it makes me uneasy, and I’m not sure I could say with confidence that its leaks are in the public interest.

Bloody Sunday

The outcome of the Bloody Sunday inquiry was clearly shocking for the British establishment, and David Cameron’s immediate and unqualified apology was a moment of statesmanship.

What lessons can be taken from the Saville Inquiry and for future judicial inquiries about war zones?

* That if the Widgery Report had been more open, and critical, then the recruiting Sgt effect might not have been so pronounced – so, can we say that a more front-foot approach to public relations would have been more effective?

* That inquiries nearly 40years after the events, whilst morally and legally defensible, are highly problematic when it comes to issues of memory and memorialising?

* What time limitations – if any – should be placed on judicial actions? And can the context of the time be taken into account, or can the attitudes of the present day be mitigated? Is trying someone in today’s context fair – they couldn’t have known this context at the time.

* Was Saville only possible in the context of the Good Friday Agreement? Could it have been done at the height of ‘the troubles’? And whatever the answer to that question, we should begin to cross-reference South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission, with the current renewed spasm in Israel-Palestine, and with our own theatres in Iraq-Afghanistan. If peace has to break out before truth and reconciliation, then securing the peace has to occur with very little reconciliation at all. And I would refer people back to the opening quote of this piece: ‘Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem’. We can all happily criticise from the comfort of our offices, or our homes, but the human condition is shaped by the immediacy and reality of the moment. How we blend idealism with the harshness of reality is something we have struggled with, as a species, for all of our various civilisations. These equations are often power equations, and they move with time. The harsh reality is that is reasonableness is a movable feast; pity those engaged in operational theatres (both for us and against us, but mostly for us) today.

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