It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
– Albert Einstein
7 years later, Wikileaks is still in moral court. To convict or not to convict? That depends on the moral charge. The allegation is: Wikileaks is guilty of informing the public of facts that embarrass those in power.
Is Wikileaks guilty of informing the public of facts that should have been available to them in the first place?
It’s time to review the mother of all arguments raised against WikiLeaks. The argument concludes that WikiLeaks must be condemned for its actions of revealing dangerous information. Here’s the coup de force:
Problem: People are harmed by the leaks.
One assumption we can start with is simple enough: Harming people is wrong.
But let’s be more specific. Maybe harm is only wrong when innocent people are hurt. Fair enough, So let’s assume, further, that hurting innocent people is wrong and even concede the possibility that some Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian and Libyan troops may have deserved to die. Let’s grant, for sake of argument, that they did deserve it and count civilian bodies, instead.
Wikileaks is being accused of bringing harm to both military and civilian Western subjects. If we take the allegation seriously, we can essentially measure moral culpability by measuring whether an action promotes or discourages harm.
Criterion for moral culpability:
How much harm has been done by Wikileaks? By Western governments?
By this measure, WikiLeaks is on high moral ground, since the motivations underlying their leaks is an attempt to save lives and not an attempt to end them. The purpose of war-related leaks is to reveal corruption and war crimes, hopefully resulting in a decrease in body count.
But let’s not get flowery. Forget motivation. Motivation can’t be seen or touched, and it’s impossible to measure. In any case, even the best motives often fail to achieve their desired results. So we have to look at the results of the actions in question, and not merely their intended goals.
Again, WikiLeaks comes out on top here, and does so for two main reasons.
- First, there is no evidence that lives have actually been lost as a result of any leaked materials. Measuring morality through results leaves us at a loss in our attempts to villainize WikiLeaks. If such evidence exists, it should be presented. Please present this evidence.
But wait: The mere possibility of harm should suffice.
OK. So here’s a rule we can consider: If our action is likely to cause retaliation by enemy forces, and hence harm, we should refrain from acting. Isn’t this the fear, after all? That enemies will hate us more if they know what we’re up to? Don’t leaks reveal what we’re up to?
This argument fails even if we ignore the obscene death tolls brought about by our own Western involvement abroad. If the argument is good, we should prosecute every investigative journalist ever to expose information about the wrongdoings of government. That information angers a lot of people, after all, and has without a doubt motivated retaliation.
By this standard, we should condemn Noam Chomsky, The Guardian, The Intercept, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and more. Do we set up a special jail just for journalists or do we leave that to Turkey? Surely these entities have all provided plenty of fuel for retaliation with their investigative reports, their pleas for ending mass murder, and so on.
If providing fuel for retaliation is our criterion for punitive justice on Wikileaks, we must condemn everyone who disseminates information about injustice. Yet it’s worth considering that perhaps the strongest fuel for retaliation has something to do, instead, with the injustices themselves and not the journalists who told us about them. Maybe Western governments are hated for reasons having to do with the large numbers of people they are killing.
Problem: People are harmed by the leaks.
If “people” refers to humans 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 happen as a result of accidental death. They weren’t even a result of mere criminal negligence. They were intentional. 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?
The only way to successfully condemn Wikileaks is to declare that foreign lives are less valuable than Western lives. This is absurdly false. To stand up for human life while engaging in mass-murder is logically laughable. To condemn Wikileaks for trying to stop it is even worse.
If we care about all innocent life, and if one innocent life is as valuable as the next, we can only base our moral judgment on the number of murders that have provably been committed by each side. Let’s see a graphic that puts things in perspective in the context of Syria, which the US is currently also attacking on moral grounds.
Civilian Body Count so Far
WikiLeaks: approximately 0
US: approximately 2,000,000
This brings us to the real reason why Wikileaks is being condemned. The problem is truth. If the truth were different, governments wouldn’t need to hide it. If they were less corrupt and working for the people, they wouldn’t be targets for whistleblowers because that’s what governments are supposed to do. Nor would they have to condemn the messenger for merely revealing the awful things they have done.
It’s never OK to kill the messenger for exposing a crime. It’s our moral imperative to condemn the criminal and reward the messenger. Yet 7 years later, Wikileaks is still under fire for merely pursuing the criminals.
Russel, B. “Science and War” in “The Impact of Science on Society” (London: Unwin Hyman, 1952).