For some time I’ve felt somewhat sympathetic towards Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Far too many decisions which should be discussed in the public arena are, instead, concluded behind closed doors. Here in Australia you only need to witness the government deals on the NBN and a resources tax (see Is Marius Kloppers Bigger Than The PM?). Telstra shareholders will get to vote on whether they like the $11bn price tag for their legacy assets. Australian voters get no say in the matter.
For Assange’s latest stunt, however, I have no sympathy whatsoever. He has defended publishing thousands of confidential cables between US diplomats and their foreign counterparts as the pursuit of ‘freedom of speech’. Really?
I thought freedom of speech was about the right to express your own opinion. There is a big difference between that and the right to steal someone else’s privately held opinion and make it public. If Assange really believes in freedom of speech as he defines it, how about releasing every email he has ever sent, letter he has ever written and phone call he has ever made?
I am a former British diplomat. In the course of my former duties I helped to coordinate multilateral action against a brutal regime in the Balkans, impose sanctions on a renegade state threatening ethnic cleansing, and negotiate a debt relief programme for an impoverished nation. None of this would have been possible without the security and secrecy of diplomatic correspondence, and the protection of that correspondence from publication under the laws of the UK and many other liberal and democratic states. An embassy which cannot securely offer advice or pass messages back to London is an embassy which cannot operate. Diplomacy cannot operate without discretion and the protection of sources. This applies to the UK and the UN as much as the US.
In publishing this massive volume of correspondence, Wikileaks is not highlighting specific cases of wrongdoing but undermining the entire process of diplomacy. If you can publish US cables then you can publish UK telegrams and UN emails.
My question to you is: why should we not hold you personally responsible when next an international crisis goes unresolved because diplomats cannot function?”
And his answer:
“If you trim the vast editorial letter to the singular question actually asked, I would be happy to give it my attention.”
Seemed a pretty straight forward question to me.
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