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Why Wikileaks is cutting edge peacemaking

posted by Tim Nafziger on 11/29/10 at 01:50 AM

Today Wikileaks began its release of over 250,000 diplomatic cables in conjunction with media outlets around the world. I believe the work they are doing is on the emerging edge of resistance to U.S. imperialism. The releases not only unmasks the powers in meticulous detail, but threaten the very mechanisms through which empire seek to influence, control and coerce. After all, if client states and their leaders know their collaboration with the U.S. could be published all over the world, they may be less ready to go along with imperial machinations.

For example in Newsweek, Christopher Dickey describe a cable in which Yemeni leaders promising to lie to their own people and parliament. He goes on to complain, "That bit of dialogue is not just embarrassing, it's going to make the covert war against the most dangerous Al Qaeda franchise that much harder to wage."

For once, it is the empire that it is on it's back foot, scrambling to respond. The frenzied attempt at spin by the U.S. State Department over the weekend speaks volumes. One congressman called on Secretary Clinton to designate Wikileaks as a foreign terrorist organization. Then there was the denial of service attack on the Wikileaks site an hour before the scheduled release. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is a clumsy attempt by the new U.S. Cyber Command (I'm not making this up) to flex their newfound muscles. The command reached "Full Operational Capacity" less then a month ago and they are already squabbling with the CIA over who gets the authority to launch attacks on non-military targets.

Even if the Wikileaks site is brought down temporarily, the cables are available through traditional media outlets such as the he Guardian. In an editorial on their decision to participate in the release, Simon Jenkins says that the self-image of the US as world police "runs ghostlike through these cables." The cables, he says, paint a picture of an empire already well into overreach, its power projection faltering. Unfortunately a wounded bear (his metaphor) is often at its most dangerous.

This is not the first challenge to the bear from Wikileaks. Earlier this year, they released the Iraq War Logs, reports from soldiers on "Significant Action" covering 6 years. The cumulative statistics of the report are stunning: civilians made up 60 percent of the 109,032 deaths described for an average of 31 killed every day. But the individual logs are a window into the sad specifics of the soldiers and their victims. For more on these stories, see this piece from October by Isaac Villegas on Young Anabaptist Radicals.

Some of the attempts to silence Wikileaks over the last year have been more subtle. For example, much attention has been focused on Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. After all, what's a story without an easy hero/villain? This approach is exemplified by the Daily Mail's coverage which leads with a dramatic photo of Assange facing off against Prince Andrew with the caption "The astonishing claims of Prince Andrew's (left) 'inappropriate behaviour' appeared on Julian Assange's WikiLeaks site." If Wikileaks began and ended with Assange, scuttling the site would be much simpler.

But the story isn't about Assange, it's about a a small and growing movement that is outmaneuver the world's largest superpower. They have learned the digital landscape well and they have mastered the new tools for the struggle. This is what pro-active action to dismantle the war machine looks like. As Wikleaks widens our prophetic imagination, what other new and creative challenges to empire will emerge?

November 30 update: Here's a very useful analysis of some of the theory behind Wikileaks as it relates to the "authoritarianism" of the US government: Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government”.

Nafziger_tim_2_thumbnail Tim Nafziger is passionate about gathering people with shared values to work together for change in our communities and our world. One such space is Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) where he works as interim assistant director. Tim lives with his wife Charletta in the Ojai Valley in southern California where they connect with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministires. Tim has written chapters in Widening the Circle: Experiments in Christian Discipleship; Fear or Freedom?: Why a Warring Church Must Change; and 118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams Held Hostage in Iraq. His photo portfolio is at timnafziger.com. You can follow Tim on Twitter at @tim_nafziger

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  • Posted by tristaanogre at Monday, November 29, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    My one problem with Wikileaks methodology is the disregard for the safety of those people who depend upon the classified status of many of those documents. I do agree that the US has been very imperialistic over the past several decades. And I do agree that there should be some accountability brought to light. But as the movement to dismantle the war-machine moves forward, there are also those who want to kill Americans that also have managed to figure out the digital landscape and can use leaked information to put lives at risk. Whether or not you agree with the policies of the US military is irrelevant. If we truly believe in the sanctity of human life, the ends cannot justify the means if there is a serious possibility that human life will be lost as a result of your actions.

  • Posted by timjn at Monday, November 29, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    Tristaanogre,

     

    The humanitarian line of argument about "putting lives at risk" seems to be the most persistent and effective argument being laid out against Wikileaks. Unfortunately for the State Department, it directly contradicts the very clear vetting process followed by Wikileaks, in cooperation with the five partner media sources, as reported by The Guardian:

     

    In this light, two backup checks were applied. The US government was told in advance the areas or themes covered, and "representations" were invited in return. These were considered. Details of "redactions" were then shared with the other four media recipients of the material and sent to WikiLeaks itself, to establish, albeit voluntarily, some common standard.

     

    The state department knew of the leak several months ago and had ample time to alert staff in sensitive locations. Its pre-emptive scaremongering over the weekend stupidly contrived to hint at material not in fact being published.

     

    Then, on Friday, in response to the ramp up in fear mongering from the U.S., Wikileaks made one more overture to the US embassy in London:

     

    26 November WikiLeaks to US Ambassador to London, Louis Susman

     

    Subject to the general objective of ensuring maximum disclosure of information in the public interest, WikiLeaks would be grateful for the United States Government to privately nominate any specific instances (record numbers or names) where it considers the publication of information would put individual persons at significant risk of harm that has not already been addressed.

     

    27 November Reply from Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser, United States Department of State

     

    We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials. PDF

     

    Source: Index on Censorship

     

    If they were genuinely concerned about safety and risk to US (or other) lives, it seems they had plenty of opportunities to act on it. Instead, I suspect they were much more interested in the propaganda value of the "sanctity of life" argument for use in their media spin cycle.

  • Posted by tristaanogre at Monday, November 29, 2010 at 02:52 PM

    Fair enough, the state department is equally culpable then in any loss of human life. I can see that. That does not, however, absolve Wikileaks from any loss of human life. Two wrongs don't make a right, the ends does not justify the means. Perhaps no loss of life will come of it. I see that as dodging a bullet, then, not as proof of no damage possible. I think Wikileaks still has responsibility to prevent such danger to personnel across the globe. As mentioned up front in my earlier comment, I agree that US imperialism is rampant in the world affairs. But there has to be a better, less risky way of doing it. Yes, by all means, let's use digital resources to call our nation to account for attrocities. But let's do it responsibily. Breaking the law of the worldly nations is one thing when the nation's law goes counter to God's law. I don't see that distinction here... I see rampant lawlessness happening and being justified as "It's for the good of all". There has to be a better way to bring this to account rather than a) breaking the law and b) bringing the potential of loss of human life, proven or unproven.

  • Posted by Debra Bender at Monday, November 29, 2010 at 05:02 PM

    Tim, I couldn't agree more. I have to say, though, the attempts to silence Assange have been less than subtle -- wasn't there some nonsense about an old rape charge brought up a couple weeks ago? Have to disagaree with tristaanoore, though. It's the American government, in the end, which puts peoples' lives at risk. Trying to hang that on Assange strikes me as disingenuous.

  • Posted by Dayvid at Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 12:03 AM

    The exposing of truth is always right when it comes to any kind of conflict. Even though truth always wins, it sometimes hurts. Could it be that the lives Wikileaks may be saving are those of our enemies? Can exposing the truth of war be a way of loving our enemies? As a follower of Jesus, one who exposed the principalities for what they truly are, I believe Wikileaks is part of the movement of God in the world...whether they know it or not. Dayvid Graybill Denver, CO

  • Posted by tristaanogre at Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 09:22 AM

    @Debra - As stated before, I think both the US Government and Wikileaks are culpable if lives are at risk because of the release of the classified documents. My point has been, always has been, always will be, is there a better way, a way that does not risk ANY more lives, a way that prevents the loss of life at the hands of the US government even, that does not involve violation of US law, risk of human life, etc. I reiterate.. the ends doesn't justify the means. We're here praising someone for breaking the law... we'd better be pretty darn sure that we want to advocate for that. The only times that the Mennonite Church historically has sponsored breaking sovereign national law has been when it has gone counter to God's law and there is no other way. Are we saying, then, that traitorous acts against a sovereign nation, against a government which, while flawed, is established by God (read Romans 13 again sometime) is the ONLY way to call said government to account? We love to advocate for peaceful negotiations and diplomatic discussions with Iran, North Korea, China, the USSR back in the day, etc. But when it comes to our OWN country, we say "To hell with peaceful negotiations, recklessness is warranted." Somehow, something seems wrong with that. @Dayvid - Okay, yes, love your enemies... I'm with you there. I think the military machine of the US has FAR over-reached the bounds of sensibility and propriaty. But since when has God been about "love your enemies and kill your friends"? For that matter, considering the nature of this comment thread, seems to me that there is a general sentiment that the US government and it's diplomatic corp is the enemy. Is it loving the enemy to advocate and praise actions that have the potential for additional loss of life? Somehow, again, that just doesn't feel right. All I'm saying, everyone, is that while we need to call our government to account, I don't think the actions of Assange and Wikileaks are warranted. There HAS to be another way. We are a church, a theology, that advocates for "The Third Way". Is there a better way then destroying the sovereignty of a nation, even our own?

  • Posted by tristaanogre at Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 09:58 AM

    One more comment then I'm bowing out of this conversation as non-productive: We are a church tradition that advocates for love of all, even our enemies. We are a "pro-life" tradition that thinks that the sanctity of human life is paramount and that unconditional love should be the rule of our lives. I find it highly disturbing that there are people within this tradition that advocates for actions that have the potential of bringing harm to other human beings. We are so focused on our anti-war doctrine that we have lost sight of our pro-life doctrine. It seems to me that we are pro-life for anything but, when it comes to the military, it serves the government right and the military right if people in the military die due to our actions. We go so far as to support organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah in the name of love but disregard the military and violent actions of those organizations. That's just one example, really. And this Wikileaks thing is another. When it comes to the US military, who cares if there's the potential for people to die? So long as it embarrasses the US government and the US military, it's okay in the name of peace. Who cares if US diplomats and intelligence corp people are potentially at risk for their jobs, their homes, even their lives? It's all okay because we can justify it in the name of peace, right? Don't get me wrong, I believe in peace. I believe that the goal of the church, of the Christian life, is to call the world to an idea of peace under Christ where people are in right relationship with each other. But is peace THAT important that we are willing to sacrifice peace in one venue simply to bring about peace in another? Shouldn't we be more holistic about our peace? Quite frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach to think that there are Christians who are happy that other people's lives have been put at risk for this. Is anti-war THAT important that we sacrifice all our other ideals? I hope not. With that, I leave you until another day. God bless.

  • Posted by timjn at Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 03:56 PM

    Tristaanogre,

     

    The whole premise of all your writing here seems to be that there are lives put at risk by this release. I simply don't buy that premise.

     

    Wikileaks had these cables for nearly a year and during that time took quite a few steps to avoid the risk of life. As I read the Guardian's article (quoted above), there was an extensive process where portions of the releases were redacted.

     

    Do you have any sources that point to specific instances of lives being put at risk by a specific cable released?

     

    Likewise, I'd welcome specific examples in your claim that "We go so far as to support organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah in the name of love." Who is the "we" in this exactly?

     

    You say "people within this tradition that advocates for actions that have the potential of bringing harm to other human beings"? Again, can you give examples?

  • Posted by tmadmin at Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 03:57 PM

    FROM KATE SLATER: I hope the Mennonite will publish more than one opinion about the 'peacemaking' value of wikileaks. Wikileaks' decision to publish a lot of rude things that diplomats have said about world leaders is not an action that's likely to promote peace and understanding in the long run. And to imply that diplomats should not be sending this kind of communication to Washington is deliberately naive. Our leaders in Washington must have candid, honest information about who they are dealing with if they are to make informed decisions about how to relate to world leaders. Wikileaks wants the moral high ground, but its work tears down rather than building up. Wikileaks has not earned our applause.--Posted by Admin.

  • Posted by timjn at Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 06:03 PM

    From the Pentagon on deaths so far from Wikileaks:

     

    Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell has said previously that there was no evidence that anyone had been killed because of the leaks. Sunday, another Pentagon official told McClatchy that the military still has no evidence that the leaks have led to any deaths.

     

    Read more: Officials may be overstating the danger from WikiLeaks

  • Posted by Matthewpsyoder at Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 06:12 PM

    This is a fascinating conversation. I appreciate tristaanogre's concern for the sanctity of human life as well as the comments of others. Theological anthropology certainly needs to be part of a well-rounded theological approach to this issue. But another very important idea for us as people of faith is God's sovereignty over all the created cosmos, including human history and even human life. These are risky times. And one of the most risky activities in our day is challenging the principalities and powers of this present age. At what point should we, as people of faith, take a stand for risky goodness and trust our God to be as invested in the sanctity of human life as we are? Can we trust God enough to see acting boldly and praying diligently as co-activities in a well-balanced approach to the dangers of our times? Certainly peace, justice, and the sanctity of human life are all very important aspects of discipleship. But should any of these take precedence over the unifying goal of following in the radical footsteps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth? This conversation brings two Scripture passages to my mind. Psalm 85:10 can be read as anticipation of a time when justice and peace will no longer be in conflict with one another but will embrace like lovers. In Matthew 10:34-36 Jesus appears to instruct the twelve disciples about his own dual impact on society; gathering one's enemies into one's own household while also putting a household family at odds within itself.

  • Posted by kshelly at Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 09:05 PM

    Kate Slater hoped for different opinions on this issue to be published. I don't know that the Mennonite will do that, but the New Republic published a though-provoking piece called, "Why Wikileaks is Bad for Progressive Foreign Policy." It can be found at http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-cohn/79483/wikileaks-round-iii-will-it-matter-much

  • Posted by marco_funk at Wednesday, December 01, 2010 at 05:36 PM

    In my job, I'm supposed to balance keeping certain things confidential, on the one hand, and living transparently, on the other. It requires wisdom to know when it is appropriate to keep a matter in confidence and when transparency is key. The leaders of Wikileaks must use wisdom in discerning this. But it is ultimately the Government of the United States that needs to learn a lesson from Wikileaks. The people of the world are demanding a clear account of it's government's actions. This demand is being met by Wikileaks. Clarity and transparency is obviously important, even as certain moments of confidentiality. Clarity and Confidentiality are often tools used to make the government seem responsible and Just, but they must also be used when they implicate the government in injustice. The US Government should welcome clarity and transparency if it wishes to rule with any kind of honor. And yet, if it's interests were justice and truth, then the people would no longer demand transparency on issues that rightly deserve confidentiality. The very existence of Wikileaks is a sign that the world's people have lost confidence in their leadership's ability to rule fairly, justly and with honor.

  • Posted by stabhav at Friday, December 03, 2010 at 12:31 AM

    Theft=Peacemaking? It seems you are suggesting that the ends justify the means. You celebrate theft (and in the case of the enlisted-specialist who stole the documents, treachery) as prophetic imagination?! Would you celebrate a bank clerk who stole from his bank's clients if he donated that money to an organization you admire?

  • Posted by timjn at Friday, December 03, 2010 at 02:51 PM

    Karl and Kate,

     

    How we view "leaders in Washington" has a big influence on how we view these diplomatic leaks. For example, Heather Hurlburt, the author of the article Karl linked to, spent a decade working for the state department and now she works for the the National Security Network, a think tank staffed by former generals and Democratic party staff members. She's been understandably shaped by this role and so sees the State Department as a basically benevolent force, carrying out the same mission as the Department of Defense, but more effectively and in a more humanitarian way. The foundation of her thinking and how she defines progressive values is grounded in the long term interest of the United States nation state:

     

    But underlying all those discrete policy positions is a common set of assumptions and values: that we live in a complex world where posturing, rigid ideology, and indiscriminate use of force will not get us, as a society or a global commons, to where we need to go; that quiet talk is much more effective than loud threats; that, in the long run, America’s national interests will be best served if we see and act on them as inextricably linked with the interests of others.

     

    When it comes down to it, the reign of God and shalom vision that Jesus lived out are aligned in a fundamentally different way then America's national interests. You can call this point of view naive or even treacherous, but it's where I find hope.

     

    stabhav,

     

    Do you believe there is ever a moral or theological case for breaking the law? If so, could you give some examples?

  • Posted by managinged at Friday, December 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    Here is a link to what I think is a well-argued counterpoint to your blog posting. Margaret Somerville is one of Canada's most respected (and also hated) ethticists and a committed Christian. http://www.christianity.ca/netcommunity/Page.aspx?pid=7535

  • Posted by PA Mennonite at Monday, December 20, 2010 at 01:33 PM

    "The very existence of Wikileaks is a sign that the world's people have lost confidence in their leadership's ability to rule fairly, justly and with honor." -- When did the world's people ever have this? "Would you celebrate a bank clerk who stole from his bank's clients if he donated that money to an organization you admire?" -- Apparently a good many of our brethren would support breaking the law situationally. Curious if Jesus ever advocated this or if we are making a huge theological extension?

  • Posted by clairh77 at Thursday, January 06, 2011 at 03:29 AM

    This Australian journalist has a very persuasive take on Assange's significance, saying that while his organization's impact was realised late in 2010, this shouldn't stop Assange being Australian of the Year. And he outlines why: http://bit.ly/ia2Y2T

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