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The Torah of Julian Assange, part 2

12/21/2010

As long as they don’t dig into what my elves do in the 11 months they’re on vacation, I’m solidly behind WikiLeaks.

This, in a nutshell, describes my own ambivalence about WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning (the guy who allegedly turned over all those cables to WikiLeaks and has been held in solitary at Quantico for the last 7 months, give or take) — where, my friends, is the line?

Context? The quote is from Michael Moore on last minute gift ideas for Christmas. Good list, truly: I’m going to make a small contribution to The Water Project as suggested. But buried in a glowing description of why one should financially support WikiLeaks is that sentence about the elves — and I’m riled up all over again. Not exactly riled, but troubled & confused & a little uneasy.

Yes, I know it was a joke, but isn’t this the nub of the problem: Do we have a right to know about those kinky elves? Or is it a need? Is this about principles or gossip or a result of our deep-seated fear at being left out? (Yes, those people speaking a foreign language really are talking about you.) And how much are we willing to be told about us without our permission in exchange for knowing about everyone and everything else?

Just before God decides to reduce Sodom & Gomorrah to rubble & ash, S/He wonders out loud: Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? I, the Lord, am about to do something that could be interpreted as vile & murderous — will my chosen guy let something like this pass? God blabs, Abraham negotiates, and the city is still blown to smithereens. Knowledge in and of itself doesn’t guarantee changing a damn thing — millions of people around the globe knew that bombing Iraq was wrong, but that didn’t stop President Bush from pushing the button.

I’ve no doubt that God knew all along there weren’t 10 righteous folks. Given that basic fact of omnipotence, is it better for Abraham to know ahead of time, after the fact, both, or neither? Or consider the near-sacrifice of Isaac. It is entirely┬ápossible that knowing the truth about her husband’s action was what killed Sarah.

There are those who argue that it’s always better to err on the side of knowing, and of taking action, even if it ultimately gets you nowhere. That you gotta keep an eye on those who wield power. I respect that position, have even argued it myself from time to time, but is there a thing as too much truth?

I don’t want to know about elfin debauchery and laziness in August. Truly. It will just upset me. I don’t want to know what some lower level diplomat said about another’s table manners (though I was interested to read that Assange is staying in a 10-room chateau owned by an uber-libertarian Brit while he’s out on bail). Jewish tradition teaches that it is okay to bend the truth in the service of keeping the peace. If more of us followed this rule in our personal relationships… whoa, baby!

So, Julian Assange, if you show me all of yours, maybe I’ll show you mine. Or maybe not. That’s for me to know and you to find out.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria H. Bedford permalink
    12/21/2010 3:59 pm

    I don’t know much about what has actually been leaked, but one difference between what I imagine what was leaked and the elves debauchery (implied), is that our hired professionals like diplomats, people in the public trust, corporation big shots who are given ENORMOUS amounts of welfare out of our taxes should behave like professionals. I admit I may be misjudging the situation but it seems to me a good outcome is that people in such positions (and who benefit enormously from them) should be judicious about what they say, knowing that they could be exposed at any time.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      12/21/2010 8:06 pm

      Agreed that people should be judicious no matter what. The issue is more like this (other than cables that deal with overall Iraq or Afghanistan policy, for instance): internal memos and conversations about diplomacy in progress have been leaked. So, if one of our diplomats suggests a particular strategy for dealing with a difficult situation to another diplomat, they risk public exposure. To my thinking, that’s like making public all those private – and maybe inconsequential – conversations that happen around the water cooler.

  2. Dan Price permalink
    12/23/2010 10:32 am

    The founding document of this country asserts a right, in fact a duty, of the people to rebel against a government that becomes destructive; the fix to this is democracy, which provides legal means to check government abuses. We have the right ot protest the law, to advocate changes to the law, and to vote for representatives who agree with our perspective, but we don’t have the right to violate the law. We have a free press which does an excellent job of calling government officials to account when necessary; we don’t need criminals on some misguided crusade to root out corruption. You can argue that the leaked documents are documents that should be public, but the release of them in violation of the law is still wrong. Maybe we should review how documents become classified, or what sort of information can be classified, or even if there should be such a thing as classified information, but until such is done through the proper democratic process, the release of that information is a crime. I will leave it to a proper court to determine Assange’s guilt or innocence on the rape charge, but for leaking classified documents he belongs in jail.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      12/23/2010 10:59 am

      I think you nailed it on the head — is Julian Assange a criminal on some misguided crusade or a hero shedding light on how our government has failed us? And how far is too far in such a crusade? To be honest, I’m less worried about whether this is a crime, legally defined, and more about whether it is a moral crime (which sometimes aren’t the same thing).

  3. Victoria H. Bedford permalink
    12/23/2010 1:12 pm

    In principle I suppose Dan is right of course. The Pentagon Papers, however, taught us that what should be the case is not. President after president lied to the American people. Leaking them was illegal and Daniel Ellsberg was scheduled to go to jail, but, luckily, was released, as he really did us all a great service. This is not to say that Assuage is an Ellsberg; I’m only mentioning Ellsberg because illegal documents were made public because of his illegal action. I also do not trust the mainstream US press as much as you do.

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