A story of the everyday squalor of journalistic incompetence

A few days following WikiLeaks’ publishing of over 90,000 classified documents relating to the war in Afghanistan, we learn that some of the leaked files contain the names of Afghan citizens who provided intelligence support to US military forces.

I was under the impression that WikiLeakers and their media partners had checked through the files prior to publication, and redacted information that would in the public domain compromise security and further endanger the lives of soldiers or civilians. One might forgive WikiLeaks for small errors and oversights, but surely not this one, especially when WikiLeaks’ whistleblower-in-chief Julian Assange justifies the release of the civilian names thus:

“No one has been harmed, but should anyone come to harm of course that would be a matter of deep regret – our goal is justice to innocents, not to harm to them. That said, if we were forced into a position of publishing all of the archives or none of the archives, we would publish all of the archives because it’s extremely important to the history of the war.”

This statement is a brain fart the scale of which dwarfs Assange’s already inflated ego, and it makes a nonsense of previous claims that some of the documents provided in confidence to WikiLeaks were held back from publication for reasons of security. It is simply not enough to complain after the fact that appeals for US government cooperation fell on deaf ears.

The result is an ethical transgression of enormous proportions, and one that unfortunately reflects badly on WikiLeaks’ media partners. If this revelation spells the end for WikiLeaks, then I would hope that a similar freedom of information initiative is launched in short order. Possibly under Icelandic legal jurisdiction, with oversight from journalistic and other civil society bodies.

Either way, Julian Assange’s personal reputation lies in tatters, and supporters of WikiLeaks (myself included) are left eating humble pie. Others could end up paying with their lives.