It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
– Albert Einstein
It’s time to review the mother of all arguments raised against WikiLeaks and come to a simple conclusion based on fact.
The argument against WikiLeaks concludes that WikiLeaks must be condemned for its actions. Here’s the coup de force:
Real people die when sources and methods are leaked.
The assumption being made here is simple enough: Murder is wrong.
But let’s be more specific. Maybe murder is only wrong when innocent people are killed. Fair enough, So let’s assume, further, that killing innocent people is wrong and even concede the possibility that Iraqi or Afghan troops may have deserved to die. Let’s grant, for sake of argument, that they deserved what they got. Let’s only count civilians.
If murdering innocent people is wrong, then we can essentially measure evil, or moral culpability, by measuring whether an action promotes or discourages murder. By this measure, WikiLeaks is on high moral ground, for the motivation underlying the leaks comes from an attempt to save lives and not an attempt to end them. The purpose of the leaks is to reveal war crimes and hopefully minimize the escalating body count.
But let’s not get too flowery here. Forget motivations. Motivations can’t be seen or proven, and in any case, they may fail to achieve their desired results. So we have to look at the results of our actions and not merely their intended goals.
Again, WikiLeaks comes out on top here, and does so for two main reasons.
- First, there is no hard evidence that lives have actually been lost as a result of the leaked documents, so measuring morality through results leaves us at a loss in our attempts to villainize WikiLeaks. If such evidence exists, it should be presented.
“But wait! The mere possibility of death should suffice!”
OK. So here’s the rule we will live by: If our action is likely to cause retaliation, and hence murder, we should not commit that action. If we commit it, we should be condemned.
This argument fails even if we ignore the death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the argument is good, we should prosecute every investigative journalist ever to leak information about the wrongdoings of government. Those leaks anger a lot of people and have without a doubt motivated retaliation. By this standard, we should condemn Noam Chomsky, the BBC, NBC, The Guardian, Amnesty International, and so on. These entities have all provided plenty of fuel for retaliation with their investigative reports, their pleas for ending genocide, and so on–all that free speech / free press stuff.
Hence if providing fuel for retaliation (i.e., dirt) is our criterion for punitive justice, we must either condemn all accusatory ‘information disseminators’ or none at all.
- The second reason why WikiLeaks’ moral status comes out on top when we look at the results of all actions is that any possible retaliation versus Afghan informants shies in the face of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s body count.The leaked documents illuminate criminal methods that are being used in order to commit these murders and thus serve as evidence for the very accusation being made against their opponents. The numbers speak for themselves:<1>
Casualties in Afghanistan
Civilians killed: 8,813
Civilians seriously injured: 15,863
Journalists killed: 19
Total killed: 19,629
Total injured: 48,644
Casualties in Iraq
Civilians killed: 864,531
Civilians seriously injured: 1,556,156
Contractors killed: 933
Contractors seriously injured: 10,569
Journalists killed: 142
Total killed in Iraq: 900,338
Total injured in Iraq: 1,690,903
Real people die when sources and methods are leaked.
We can only assume that the term “real people” here refers to American people. If it referred to people in general, then WikiLeaks would be praised for its actions. Leaked video and documents reveal military activities that clearly qualify as war crimes if anything does.These casualties didn’t happened as a result of accidental death. They weren’t even a result of mere criminal negligence. Bringing these facts to light is as close as we can get to a real trial, for now.
It seems the only way to successfully refute Wikileaks’ position is to argue that foreign lives are worth less than American lives. Who will be the first to stand up and declare this? WikiLeaks opponents might as well say it out loud, for it is an obvious assumption and logical consequence of their position. No other assumption saves our opponents from outright contradiction.
The only way to successfully condemn WikiLeaks is to declare that foreign lives are less valuable than American lives. This declaration must be made by the opponents unless they wish to change their position on WikiLeaks, for a simple body-count reveals the obvious asymmetry in the comparison and it even reveals a profound hypocrisy: To stand up for human life while engaging in mass-murder is logically laughable. To condemn the entity that tries to stop you is even worse.
Yet the most tragic reason to support WikiLeaks comes with a third and final argument that I don’t like at all, but it must be stated, even if it has an obvious flaw. The flaw is the false assumption that American lives are more valuable than Afghan lives. Even if we assume this to be true for sake of argument, it turns out that we must side with WikiLeaks. The reason for this is that the informants whose lives are allegedly in danger are Afghan informants. If we don’t care about Afghan lives, then why push the accusation against WikiLeaks?
Enough with the false assumptions. We care about all innocent life, in principle. And if one innocent life is as valuable as any other, we can only base our moral judgment on the number of murders that have provably been committed by each side.
Civilian Body Count so Far
WikiLeaks: approximately 0
America: approximately 873,000
So let’s revisit the question: If we don’t care about Afghan lives, then why push the accusation against WikiLeaks? The truth is, America does care about (some) American lives (the ones that carry out the killing), and those lives are in danger too, thanks to… thanks to what? The leaks? Does such a large chunk of the world now hate America because WikiLeaks revealed what America is doing, or do they hate America because of what America is doing? I’m thinking America-hatred probably has more to do with the whole mass murder thing.
This brings us to the real reason why WikiLeaks is being condemned. The truth is… the problem. The truth is the problem. If the truth weren’t what it is, they wouldn’t have to hide it. If the armed forces weren’t raping, collecting dead bodies (and body parts), and things like that, they wouldn’t be in this mess. They wouldn’t have to threaten the messenger and turn their backs on what little remains of The Constitution.
It’s never OK to kill the messenger for exposing the crime. When so many people are dying, it’s our moral imperative to condemn the criminal and praise the messenger. When the choice is between ending genocide and putting our own lives at risk, it’s also our moral imperative to be messengers when we can. Real lives are at stake.
Either we must allow the human race to exterminate itself, or we must forgo certain liberties which are very dear to us, more especially the liberty to kill foreigners whenever we feel so disposed.
A clear choice must be made[:] the choice between Reason and Death. And by ‘Reason’ I mean willingness to submit to law as declared by an international authority. I fear that mankind may choose Death. I hope I am mistaken. <2>
<2> Russel, B. “Science and War” in “The Impact of Science on Society” (London: Unwin Hyman, 1952).