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Why is important

Posted by Don McLenaghen on August 1, 2010

Our world is run by an elite! No, i do not mean the illuminati, nor the Free Mason and not even the Republicans…no i am referring to the millions of civil servant, politicians and government contractors who run our government and provide the services we expect and need. By and large these people do good and are necessary however by virtue of their position they have extraordinary power to do things, cover thing up, and mislead the public.

Now, as many of you know from listening to the show i am a big fan and big government (united we stand-divide we are subjugated) however that good-will is not dogmatic. I understand that bureaucracies can create situation of corruption and incompetence and that the citizens must be vigilant. How can we be vigilant? By being informed! has been in the news many time during its long (for the internet) history. The latest flaring of interest was the release of over 15,000 document(01) (out of a reported cache of 91,000+); first to the press (the UK’s Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel and the American New York Times); then to the public (synchronized to be released the same day the press printed their articles on the documents). The New York times even reviewed the documents with the Pentagon to ensure not to “put lives at risk or jeopardize”(02) and although not happy, the Pentagon gave its approval to the New York Times.

Reaction to the “Afghan war diaries”(03) has been mixed. The European press focusing on the loss of innocent life. Noting a number of the reports showing people being killed simply driving too close. Their view of the documents has largely been positive. The US reaction has been a predictable mix. The progressive news groups (such as Democracy Now!(04)) have praised the leaks as a necessary check for a democracy and condemning the unnecessary civilian deaths. The popular press focused more on the ties between the Pakistani secrete service and government with the Taliban. Oddly enough, it was the NPR (National Public Radio, kinda the radio version of PBS) which has spent a lot its time covering the debate about the ethicacy(05) and reliability(06) of releasing the documents themselves and trying to discredit the documents. was also at the heart of another controversial relies of a video showing how an American helicopter gunship gunned down a a couple of Routers News staff, a family and several people (some attempting to give medical assistance to the father and his children). Altogether 18 people were killed. Original reports of the incident cited the reported where with ‘insurgence with small arm and a rocket propelled grenade’(08). Although legal action against the soldiers involved was never takes because the incident was reported as a ‘misunderstanding’, after the video release many have called for the investigation to be reopened because the video evidence implies it was not simply an accidental murder. <see the video> describes itself as “a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistle-blowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public”. They participate in what they call “principled leaking”, that is they do not just allow any crackpots to post things, there is a process where information that is posted is vetted to ensure its authenticity. There is also, where ethically necessary, redaction to ensure the personal safety of innocence. For example in the latest release of documents, the names of individuals (including informants and sources) were redacted to protect their lives.

In the past, WikiLeaks is responsible for the release of email from Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo account showing she was doing government business on her private account. Why is this important? She was breaking the law by evade public record laws intended to prevent political corruption(09). They were were also pivotal in publicizing the illegal treatment of Gito detainees(10), and The Minton report about illegal toxic waste dumping of the Ivory Coast by multinational corporation Trafigura(11). It has even successfully taken on Scientology(12). Of course its not all “lefty” stuff, they were also pivotal in the publishing of the Climate Gate emails; which i personal did not like but acknowledge that we did not know there was no ‘wrong-doing’ in the climate science community until this release. Leaks shed light on both the bad and the good.

Leaking or whistle-blowing is important because as i said at the beginning there is an elite with extraordinary powers and they have and will keep information from the public. Sometimes this coverup is for nefarious reasons dealing with corruption, sometimes to hide incompetence but other times it is to ensure a ‘correct’ message provide to the people to ensure government policy is received well. Leaking sheds light on these activities and makes them harder to perpetrate.

Why is this important to skeptics? As a skeptic we want to make rational informed decision. Science is a self-reenforcing practice that means ‘lies’ will eventually be called out by the scientific method. However political skepticism cannot rely on this mechanism. Political skepticism relies of information that come from ‘non-repeatable’ sources. As such, provide a mechanism to keep thing honest. That reasoning is done with the facts and not just the spin. WikiLeaks is not the truth but a check to balance those who have information not normally available to the masses…information often required to be a good political skeptic.


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