Wikileaks appears to be alive and kicking despite its founder's legal
issues. On Sunday the site authorized the publication of scores of
new details about America's antiterrorism campaign, including some that cast
America's actions in a questionable light.
The leaks are the latest development in Wikileaks' pro-transparency information
attacks on the U.S. government.
I. What Leak?
The latest leaks appear to come from even more confidential documents
downloaded off of Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), the
network that supports the information needs of the military and intelligence
Imprisoned U.S. Army private, Specialist Bradley Manning, is accused of
downloading the documents and disguising
them on CDs. Mr. Manning is accused of slowly passing the information
off to Wikileaks.
unclear how long ago Wikileaks passed the documents off to the
news organizations. Typically documents like these require a fair amount
of lead-time in order to make even the most basic of comprehensive analyses.
Wikileaks has struggled
financially of late, so has turned largely to volunteer efforts to
support its operations and hosting. Thus it is of interest whether or not
it is still actively participating in leaks or simply pulling the trigger on
already released documents -- unfortunately the media outlets give little
indication what the situation might be.
This time around Wikileaks passed the documents off to
America's National Public Radio (NPR) and The Washington Post.
The organization is selective in only handing the desirable leak
information to news outlets it considers sympathetic to its cause.
The New York Times and Britain's Guardian, both of whom
formerly received leaks, did not receive this round of leaks.
Reportedly, Wikileaks is upset at these publications for
covering the pending ostensibly unrelated sex crimes allegations against Wikileaks founder
and chief Julian Assange.
These newspapers still managed to obtain the documents from "another
II. What's in the Documents?
If anything this is one of Wikileaks meatier releases. Unfortunately for
the site, in the U.S. public interest in the story has waned amidst rounds of
war memos from soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The new documents reveal details about America's anti-terrorism efforts in the
U.S. and abroad. Unlike some past releases, certain details revealed here
seem to clearly indicate the U.S. in wrongdoing.
Many of the released details cover America's prison in Cuba, Guantánamo
The New York Times reports that Mohammed Qahtani, a Saudi
dubbed the "20th hijacker" by government officials, was subjected to
inhumane torture. Allegedly a member of Al Qaeda who hoped to participate
in the 9-11 Bombing, Mr. Qahtani was leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated,
and forced to urinate on himself.
The documents also reveal that some of the 759 detainees appear to be unjustly
imprisoned. Examples of detainees that proved completely harmless were a
14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, and an 89-year-old Afghan village elder who
was suffering from senile dementia. Reportedly both individuals were held
captive against their will for long periods.
On the other hand the documents also reveal that many of the prisoners were
obviously violently opposed to the U.S. and appear to be true
"terrorists". Inmates regularly received citations for
"inappropriate use of bodily fluids", which translated, in most cases
to urinating on, or throwing feces at guards.
The detainees in their interrogations were "mostly compliant and rarely
hostile to guard force and staff", but some became violent towards them.
One individual said "he would like to tell his friends in Iraq to
find the interrogator, slice him up, and make a shwarma (a type of sandwich)
out of him, with the interrogator’s head sticking out of the end of the
Another "threatened to kill a U.S. service member by chopping off his head
and hands when he gets out," and informed a guard "he will murder him
and drink his blood for lunch. Detainee also stated he would fly planes into
houses and prayed that President Bush would die."
Clearly the U.S. officials were dealing with a tough situation.
Further complicating the picture is the fact that some of the government's more
extreme interrogations -- much criticized -- did yield a wealth of useful
NPR reports, "Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the
Guantanamo detainees who were famously waterboarded while in CIA detention, are
cited as providing interrogators with information about hundreds of other
And while the torture-obtained information proved largely accurate, gentler
efforts to get inmates to inform for incentives seemed to lead inaccurate
tales. According to NPR, "One detainee from Yemen, a convicted drug
dealer who later affiliated with al Qaida, informed on so many of his fellow
detainees at Guantanamo that authorities there decided the reliability of his
information was 'in question.'"
III. Big Picture
There's plenty to take home from the latest release. The most important
thing, perhaps, is that Wikileaks is still around and still appears
to be focusing the brunt of its scrutiny on the U.S. government (95+ percent of
the site's documents are from the U.S.).
The release also renews the debate about whether Wikileaks is
"whistleblowing". Unlike some past releases like the State
Department cables release, the information revealed this time around seems
to offer legitimately compelling evidence that the U.S. was doing something
wrong. In that regard it seems like it could qualify under the premise of
"whistleblowing" -- more so than past releases, at least.
Despite the fact that U.S. government rules provide certain protections for
"whistleblowers" in the military, it seems unlikely that the concerns
in the recent document will change Mr. Manning's legal plight given the more
questionable nature of some of the previous releases and how Mr. Manning
allegedly chose to release the information (to foreign nationals, rather than
scrupulous U.S. news outlets like The New York Times).
The leaks offer a mixed picture of America's infamous Cuban prison. Today
only 172 prisoners remain at Guantánamo. In total, 759 prisoners
were covered in the leaked records -- 75 were not. Of those estimated 834
individuals who entered the compound most appear to have been at least a mild
threat to U.S. security, and many U.S. interrogation tactics appeared to have
On the other hand, the U.S. may have stepped over the line in some cases and
some people may have been wrongly imprisoned.
Clearly this was a high-pressure situation for the U.S. and at the end of the
day the results were mixed -- the government did not perform
There's a wealth of details that are outside the scope of this summary that are
contained in various reports -- everything from a former detainee now assisting
the U.S. as a leader of the resistance in Libya to the locations of suspected
Al Qaeda officials before 9/11 and at the present date.
To learn more, check out the following publications:
1. The Washington Post -- "WikiLeaks
discloses new details on whereabouts of al-Qaeda leaders on 9/11"
2. The New York Times -- "Classified Files
Offer New Insights Into Detainees"
3. NPR -- "Military Documents Detail
Life At Guantanamo"
4. Guardian UK -- "Guantánamo
leaks lift lid on world's most controversial prison"
The following legal blog also provides lots of links and a nice summary on the
The CenterLine -- "Hundreds of Guantanamo
The U.S. government has condemned the release. Ambassador Daniel Fried,
the Obama administration's special envoy on detainee issues, and Pentagon press
secretary Geoff Morrell write, "Both administrations have made the
protection of American citizens the top priority and we are concerned that the
disclosure of these documents could be damaging to those efforts."