Letters to the Editor: Feb. 2011

The Vienna Review welcomes letters from its readers

To the Editor,

In the midst of the frenetic hubble-bubble generated by the publication of mainly U.S. State Department classified documents by WikiLeaks, it was refreshing to read Justin McCauley’s detached and unexcited op-ed commentary.

Government departments, like most businesses with potential competitors, must be able to operate within prescribed parameters of confidentiality. They are also required to maintain very detailed records, which may be made public in the fulfillment of time.  Bank tellers have access to and responsibility for considerable amounts of money which they may distribute to the public under certain conditions. Taking or distributing those monies outside the specific conditions is stealing. Handling stolen monies is equally unlawful. Nobody lauds such criminal activity. Information is the currency of diplomacy. Taking and distributing classified government documents is no more laudable or acceptable to civilised society than stealing from a bank. Furthermore, as Mr. McCauley points out, the consequences may well be far more serious. It may result in people being killed. To pretend that this activity is worthy of any sort of comparison with something as valuable as Wikipedia is a distortion which is disgusting to most decent people.

Arthur Kennan


To the Editor,

I really find it hard to credit that Justin McCauley’s tongue is not wedged firmly in cheek while writing “The Betrayal of ‘Truth’.”

First, let’s deal with the factual inaccuracies. Rather than a million “Classified Pentagon documents”, the latest tranche has to date only published 1,788 out of 251,287 diplomatic cables. I assume you are conflating the figures for the Afghanistan and Iraq war log reports (a total of 391,832), which were released back in October, with little comment from the media.

Since then, Wikileaks has learned to “drip feed” the cables in the latest archive, in collaboration with highly respected media professionals, who provide much of the necessary analysis and context for a proper understanding of the source documents. It is precisely this approach which reinforces the journalistic credentials of the site, which is a foundation of modern democracies — the tradition of independent journalism, keeping governments honest by calling their hypocrisy and double-dealing to account.

I was not surprised to see you use the terms “washed up hacker and possible sex offender”, clearly following the U.S. government playbook in ad hominem attacks. Further, I expected (and was not disappointed) to see you trot out the canard about sources being compromised leading to deaths of informers — that was exposed months ago as simply unsupported by any credible evidence.

Finally, may I ask if you are familiar with the work of Daniel Ellsberg, in regard to the original Pentagon Papers leak? Because there is little substantive difference between that case and the present one. In my view, Mr Assange (while possibly behaving like an asshole in his personal relationships) is fulfilling a very important role in any democracy, which is to shine the light of truth on some of the nefarious schemes our various governments undertake covertly, in our name. Get used to it — government is answerable to The People, not vice versa.



The Author Replies:

Thanks for your letter, Paul. On most issues I refer you to the editorial above. Regarding Ellsberg: here was a man who, after intense rumination, decided it was in the best interests of his country to release one document. He was a RAND professional who made a call on essentially a single issue in which he was thoroughly versed. Assange has neither Ellsberg’s background nor his tact, and I also doubt he shares Ellsberg’s good intentions towards the U.S. The substantive difference is in fact considerable.

Justin McCauley

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