The pressure used by the US and Iraqi authorities in an attempt to prevent the website Wikileaks from releasing about 400,000 “classified” US military documents about the war in Iraq was both absurd and contrary to the principle of access to public information. The documents shed light on the scale of the violence that the US-led coalition and its Iraqi allies have used against the civilian population since 2003.
“This is not the moment for threats or verbal attacks,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The information has been released and more releases are expected to follow. The documents provided by Wikileaks confirm what US and international public opinion already knows for the most part. The politicians and military personnel responsible will one day have to account for their actions. In the name of human rights and respect for the right to information, the US and Iraqi governments ought to abide by the principle of transparency.”
“Thanks to Wikileaks, serious human rights violations have been revealed, especially cases of torture and mistreatment of detainees,” the press freedom organization added. “We congratulate the media that have covered the released information without being intimidated by the usual Pentagon rhetoric urging them not to publish information deemed to pose a threat to national security.”
Five days before the release, the Pentagon asked the media not to cooperate in the leaking of documents about the war in Iraq. US military spokesman Col. David Laplan said: “News organizations should be cautioned not to facilitate the leaking of classified documents with this disreputable organization known as Wikileaks.” The media provide “a veneer of legitimacy to Wikileaks” by relaying its leaks, he added.
Similar criticism was levelled against two leading U.S. dailies a few years ago. The Washington Post revealed the existence of secret CIA prisons in Europe and the New York Times revealed in 2005 that the Bush administration had launched a programme three years earlier under which the phone of millions of U.S. and foreign citizens had been illegally tapped. Both newspapers were accused of having “blood on their hands.”
Reporters Without Borders hails the cooperation between Wikileaks and several international media that has resulted in attention being drawn to information of public interest for U.S. and Iraqi citizens and the international community. This is a successful example of synergy between “traditional” and “new” media that has allowed journalists to be able to interpret this unedited mass of documents. Reporters Without Borders is pleased to note that the names of civilians seem to have been redacted from these documents.
The U.S. and Iraqi authorities should now review their practices regarding access to public information.
“We call for the strict implementation of the Freedom of Information Act guidelines that attorney general Eric Holder issued in 2009, under which the withholding of information is meant to be the exception (http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2009/March/09-ag-253.html),” Reporters Without Borders said. “The U.S. administration should take account of these guidelines and should properly investigate the CIA’s destruction of videos and evidence, and should inform the public about the current status of the phone-tapping programme which the National Security Agency began in 2002.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We urge the Iraqi authorities to understand Wikileaks’ work is a way of guaranteeing the media better access to information and building an Iraqi democracy that respects fundamental freedoms.”
Reporters Without Borders is extremely concerned about the harassment of those who cooperate with Wikileaks and condemns any attempt to block or censor the website. Bradley Manning, a Baghdad-based U.S. army intelligence analyst, was arrested on a charge of treason on 6 June. He is suspected of leaking confidential material to Wikileaks, including a video of a US helicopter airstrike in Baghdad in July 2007 in which two Reuters employees were killed.
“We are particularly worried about Bradley Manning,” Reporters Without Borders added. “No proper investigation into that Baghdad tragedy has been carried out. Manning, who is just an army private, has been made the scapegoat and it is unclear what will now happen to him. This is unjust. It is not a crime to reveal a war crime.”