Wikileaks: keeping America honest

Responsible leaks of government documents can be an appropriate check on abuses of power.

Candice Wheeler

The secretâÄôs out, and the U.S. government is not happy.

Wikileaks âÄî the controversial organization known for publicizing classified documents since its launch in 2006 âÄî has leaked yet more documents. The most recent leak gave more than 700 secret documents to a variety of major news outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and National Public Radio.

The documents contained information about the prisoners who have been held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay since 2002. The Bush administration established the detention camp in order to interrogate alleged enemies of the U.S.

The documents were released late Sunday night. Most of the newly released information is about current prisoners, one of which is al-Qaida military commander Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who claims he is responsible for Sept. 11.

The documents also revealed that of the nearly 800 prisoners accused of terrorism, 150 were regarded as clearly innocent. In other words, America is wrongfully holding innocent people at Guantanamo, and there are documents toprove it.

According to a Wikileaks analyst, most of the prisoners were either âÄúinnocent men and boys, seized by mistake, or Taliban foot soldiers unconnected to terrorism.âÄù

Even though the U.S. government knew of the detaineesâÄô innocence, it continued to hold the majority of them in confinement to uncover information about Osama bin Laden or the possibility of future terrorist attacks.  

The U.S. government has no reason to hold some of these prisoners, but it is doing so anyway, worried that releasing inmates could put America at risk. About 25 percent of the inmates released have gone on to rejoin al-Qaida or some other militant group. Even so, it is wrong to hold innocent people in custody, and their release should be a top priority.

Now that the details of Guantanamo have been brought to the attention of the public, I am left wondering why these documents were kept private in the first place.

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura stated his stance about Wikileaks Monday on Piers Morgan Tonight: âÄúThe government declares 16 million things top secret,âÄù Ventura said, âÄúSo what do we get to know about?âÄù He also added that what Wikileaks revealed is indeed in the public interest.

I agree with Ventura, and I donâÄôt like the government keeping secrets from us either, but there is a reason why certain documents are classified, especially during this time of global political unrest. Exposing secrets becomes problematic once the information leaked reveals current U.S. operations. Once specific names of covert agents become publicly and globally known, their lives are at risk and their assignments are compromised.

However, America has a tradition of making secret documents public. The Pentagon Papers âÄî exposed by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 âÄî were given the highest secrecy classification, whereas the Wikileaks documents were classified at the lowest level.

Wikileaks keeps governments open by pursuing its mission to publish documents of âÄúethical, political and historical significance.âÄù This is not treason, it is good investigative journalism.  

Wikileaks exercises the freedoms our democracy embraces. These âÄúleaksâÄù show that the power of the individual is on the rise and the power of governments to keep documents secret is becoming obsolete.

The Guantanamo leak has rightly made people aware of the wall between U.S. citizens and the government. As long as the media is mindful of what it puts out there, leaks like the Guantanamo documents will in fact strengthen our democracy. Americans can continue to practice free speech without endangering their troops or government workers, and that free speech can keep the country loyal to its core values.