Has the United States shifted too far away from the first of Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and are Wikileaks a good corrective? Wilson asserted that covenants or understandings between nations should be arrived at openly; that there should be no "private international understandings" or secret treaties of any kind (such as between two nations, to support each other in war). Secret understandings or treaties, Wilson maintained, were dangerous because "opposing nations would be unaware of the treaty and therefore unable to add it to their calculations, which could obviously result in a difficult situation for the party that declared war when they are suddenly confronted with the troops of two or even three nations."
President John F. Kennedy, shortly after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, made an eloquent case against secrecy in a democracy (Hat tip, Brad Friedman's blog, where the full text can be found):
The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions...
In Wikileaks we learn that Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, have urged the US to attack Iran's nuclear capacity. If Iranian leaders and the Iranian people knew this, might they be more inclined to make their nuclear ambitions more transparent to United Nations inspectors?
There is also undeniable strategic and public interest in knowing that
- The U.S. pleaded with Germany in 2007 to not prosecute CIA operatives who kidnapped and tortured a terror suspect
- Iran is buying advanced missiles from North Korea, and could strike cities in Europe or Russia. (This was later credibly denied.)
- U.S. diplomatic figures have been ordered to engage in espionage at the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up. The State Department, under the approval of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ordered U.S. diplomats to spy on their foreign counterparts by secretly collecting personal information such as credit card numbers, frequent flier membership records, email addresses, even fingerprints and DNA.
- Yemeni officials are claiming that US bombs against Al Qaeda in their country are actually Yemeni bombers.
- US "ally" Saudi Arabia is a "terrorists' cash machine," Hillary Clinton says in memo.
Greg Mitchell of The Nation is blogging the Wikileaks Releases.
Guardian interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange