Monday, October 25, 2010

WikiLeaks: Transparency is critical in a Democracy

Posted By on Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 11:03 AM

WikiLeaks is at it again. They've just released another pile of information they're calling "The Iraq war logs." This, of course, has angered some, but shouldn't we be applauding their determination to inform the citizens of the world about our ongoing wars and the human rights violations that go along with it?

Here's the deal: In a Democracy, such as ours, information is critical. Our country is supposedly run by the people, for the people. If we're going to stay on top of things and make good decisions, we need to know what's going on.

Don't you want to know if our country is killing innocent civilians ... and how many have perished? Isn't it important to understand that we're hiring a private army — one of which is based in North Carolina — to do its dirty work? How would you react if our government killed your loved ones then offered you $500 as an apology? Don't you think it's important to know how much of your tax money is being used in this way? Shouldn't our government be sharing this information with us, especially given President Obama's mandate that our government be more transparent?

From The Nation:

With the latest massive release of documents via WIkiLeask, the media is abuzz with shocked reactions to the new revelations about the civilian death toll in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, now revised upward to over 115,000 (and that's just the documented number). But no one paying even casual attention to this long-running catastrophe should have been surprised, let alone shocked.

It's true that numbers and incident reports have been hard to get -- and that's the value of that aspect of the latest from WikiLeaks -- but details about tragic incidents have filtered out before, most notably in releases forced out by legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. Many of the earlier reports only emerged out because of probes into the massive cash payments (some of it from sachels lugged around Iraq for just this purpose) to victims' families by the U.S. military, a custom known as "solatia."

The most revealing new information on Iraq -- guaranteed to make readers sad or angry, or both -- is found not in any press dispatch but in a collection of several hundred PDFs posted on the Web this week.

Here you will find, for example, that when the U.S. drops a bomb that goes awry, lands in an orchard, and does not detonate -- until after a couple of kids go out to take a look -- our military does not feel any moral or legal reason to compensate the family of the dead child because this is, after all, broadly speaking, a "combat situation."

Last June, the Boston Globe and The New York Times revealed that a local custom in Iraq known as "solatia" had now been adapted by the U.S. military -- it means families receive financial compensation for physical damage or a loss of life. The Globe revealed that payoffs had "skyrocketed from just under $5 million in 2004 to almost $20 million last year, according to Pentagon financial data."

Read the entire article, by Greg Mitchell, here.

Further reading: More than just pretty words (hopefully): President Obama pledged to change transparency for the better. Has the administration turned its back?  — Quill, a magazine for the members of the Society of Professional Journalists

From the WikiLeaks press conference:

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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