Missing the Point of WikiLeaks

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Ben Cohen
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Many Americans I have been speaking to over the past few days have expressed outrage at the leaking of private diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. They assign the words 'traitor' and 'terrorist' to the person who leaked the files and to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. A friend of mine told me that he believes Assange should be assassinated and that the leaker should be hung.

I can sympathize with their point of view - they believe that the leaks put them directly in danger as it reveals sensitive information about security and the personal names of American government employees.

However, there is an implicit assumption that the US government is working in their interests both domestically and abroad. And the evidence would seem to counter that assumption.

Over the past 50 years, the US government has been slowly hijacked by corporate interests so that in its current incarnation, it acts as an enforcer for the wealthy and powerful. This means bailouts for the banks at home, and invasions abroad to secure oil for Haliburton and Bechtel.

Any keen, neutral observer of American politics understands that the country is an empire, and anyone not ideologically wedded to the idea of American exceptionalism can understand why its actions around the world are viewed with deep suspicion. The US has engaged in vicious wars around the globe, both covertly and overtly in order to enforce an economic or military stranglehold on countries it deems strategically useful.

This isn't new and every empire under the sun has engaged in similar, brutal activities.

The actions of the United States government has been deeply harmful to its own citizens and to populations around the world, and that is why it is so important to know what it is doing. Governments classify information not necessarily to protect the population from external threats, but to protect itself from its own population. The WikiLeaks revelations that the US has been spying on UN officials and killing civilians in Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq is illegal and immoral. The next batch of WikiLeaks documents will outline exactly what the banks have been doing in collusion with the government, and you can bet your last dollar that it won't reveal any sympathy for middle classes and the poor.

WikiLeaks puts in writing what many observers already know - that the US government is engaging in all sorts of sordid, illegal activities. And the more concrete evidence the population has, the less it will be able to do it in the future.

If a Chinese government worker leaked documents proving the Chinese government was engaged in espionage and civilian killings in Tibet he would be hailed as a hero for telling the truth. He may be putting government workers at risk and pose a threat to China's national security (although the latter is highly debatable), but he would also be calling attention to illegal activity and helping stop his government commit crimes in his name.

So why is it different when an American does it?