Thursday, November 18, 2010

Translator, please!

I didn’t find anything on Wikileaks, because I really didn’t understand what I was looking at. I don’t have a military background nor do I have the patience to hunt through cryptic documentation. That being said, as a librarian, I agree with the following code that hackers adhere to, which is presented in The Nation article by Peter Ludlow: Information should be free. “It can’t be characterized in terms of left versus right so much as individual versus institution. In particular, Assange holds that truth, creativity, etc. are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, or what he calls "patronage networks," and that much of illegitimate power is perpetuated by the hoarding of information.” Information moves societies and strengthens them. As librarians, we wouldn't hoard information for those that 'deserve' it or know best. Everyone has the right to access everything we have in our institutions.

Then this sentence rattled my personal, liberal cage: “Suspicions have been deepened whenever the government declassified large quantities of documents and it became clear that the "secret" stamp was frequently wielded to conceal mistakes and misconduct, not information sensitive to national security” (Stephen Engelberg). This is exactly what bothers me about government secrecy and what I should have felt while reading the Washington Post’s investigation. People have the right to the truth and access to it. 

It’s one thing to withhold information, it’s another to lie about what’s really going on. This is when I began to feel strongly that these documents should be shared -- and that I appreciate the service Wikileaks provides with their online dropbox. As Assange says, we need soldiers and reporters to look through these documents and sort out the details, because a regular citizen like me can’t make sense of most of it. 

PS I did some searching and found another article by The Nation that highlighted some things they found on WikiLeaks that surprised me:
[American forces were thus routinely handing over Iraqi suspects to Iraqi forces who routinely tortured them, and then nothing further was done.]


  1. Mel, one of the reasons I wanted you to work with the actual WikiLeaks archive (as opposed to just reading about it or hearing about it on the news, etc.) is because of what you described - namely, how hard or easy is it for people like us, info professionals and librarians, to get info that we can understand or apply out of that archive? How easy might it be for the average person? The first time I dug through it I, too, had trouble making sense of it. It seems to necessitate the journalistic intervention to really glean the most from it . That having been said, the fact that it is there feels very powerful, and the potential for it to be there seems to me even more powerful still as a check on egregious behavior taking place under the cloak of secrecy. In other words, I wonder if it is much more powerful as a concept than in implementation for the average person.

  2. Browsing the WikiLeaks archive was, for me, not unlike watching the stock ticker crawl on CNN or something similar. I know enough military jargon and shorthand to translate what I'm looking at, but the raw data on its own - apart from being really dry reading - is incredibly difficult to assemble into a meaningful picture. I remember the first archive entry I clicked on basically described the discovery of a cache of ammunition and ordnance in a cave in eastern Afghanistan - a minor detail, but it may greater have signifigance as part of a larger narrative. I just don't know how long it would take probing the archive before that narrative would start to become clear.