WikiLeaks’ legacy

Published June 30, 2024

THE recent release from captivity of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange has presented an opportunity to revisit the role his organisation played in uncovering the dirty secrets of some of the most powerful players on the planet. In particular, WikiLeaks exposed to the world to America’s ugly imperial overreach, in stark contrast to the high values the US establishment swears by. Governments the world over do unpleasant things. But the global impact of dubious deeds committed by the world’s top economy and most powerful military machine is arguably far greater than the unsavoury activities of smaller fry. There were other prominent exposés before Mr Assange’s project; for example, the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s. But WikiLeaks came at a time when globalisation and communications technology ensured that the classified information the organisation published could be accessed by a global audience. Some have criticised the leaks as irresponsible; but it can also be argued that the information dump was very much in the public interest, exposing as it did the misdeeds of those who hid beneath a democratic veneer and bringing home the point that supposedly moral governments did some vehemently amoral things.

The list of abuses that WikiLeaks made public is long. But some of the major disclosures include the abuses committed by the US and its contractors in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the torture committed at Guantánamo; the excessive powers of American intelligence agencies, which included weaponising popular commercial apps as well as spying on American allies, along with the leak of diplomatic cables that opened a small window into the darker side of global diplomacy. In the aftermath of WikiLeaks, other data dumps have exposed unethical behaviour and potential illegalities, such as Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the Panama Papers, Pandora Papers, Dubai Unlocked, etc. The work done by Mr Assange and his colleagues gave journalists, whistle-blowers and ordinary citizens additional tools with which to hold the powerful to account and expose the doublespeak governments employ to cover up their misdeeds. This was, of course, done at considerable risk to personal safety, as Julian Assange’s long ordeal has exposed. It also highlighted the failures of regime change policies of the West, led by America. If anything, these dangerous interventions have only plunged nations unfortunate enough to be invaded by Western states further into chaos.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2024

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