UN Describes “the Right of Every Person to … Know What Governments Are Doing on Their Behalf”

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression issued a statement Wednesday laying out several principles parties should keep in mind in regards to WikiLeaks.

It balances the importance of journalists’ self-regulation to weigh the public interest of classified material against public authorities’ responsibility to protect their own classified information; it is not an unlimited endorsement of WikiLeaks.

But it does have this to say, which (particularly given that I was listening to Garry Wills’ Bomb Power as I drove across the Rust Belt yesterday) really resonated with me:

The right to access information held by public authorities is a fundamental human right subject to a strict regime of exceptions. The right to access to information protects the right of every person to access public information and to know what governments are doing on their behalf. It is a right that has received particular attention from the international community, given its importance to the consolidation, functioning and preservation of democratic regimes. Without the protection of this right, it is impossible for citizens to know the truth, demand accountability and fully exercise their right to political participation. National authorities should take active steps to ensure the principle of maximum transparency, address the culture of secrecy that still prevails in many countries and increase the amount of information subject to routine disclosure. [my emphasis]

Mind you, the statement does take the necessity of protecting information that could cause substantial harm to national security with its release quite seriously. But only after first laying the foundation of knowing what your government is doing in your name.

I was somewhat agnostic about this latest WikiLeaks dump when it began. I wasn’t sure whether–particularly given WikiLeaks’ efforts to redact harmful information–this dump would be all that useful. But as we go on, I’m more and more convinced of its importance. Not just because revelations of our bullying of the Germans and Spaniards to back off of torture prosecutions and (in the case of Germany) to sacrifice its citizens’ privacy to unfettered American access might pressure those countries to stand up to us in the name of rule of law. Not just because of revelations about how corporations–like Pfizer in Nigeria–and the Church–in Venezuela and elsewhere–drive our foreign policy. Not just for the way our country has a seeming obsession with Michael Moore’s films.

But because at a time when our country is returning to a perennial debate about whether or not we are an exceptional country–the bestest!–we need to see what the wizard behind the curtains of that purported exceptionalism really looks like.

All the ugly things WikiLeaks has revealed our government has been doing behind the curtain of diplomacy? They’ve been doing those things in our name. They’ve been invoking us when they did those ugly things.

And we deserve to know what they’ve been doing in our names.

19 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

    Kind of hard to consent to that which one does not know.

    • jerryy says:

      “Kind of hard to consent to that which one does not know.”

      Things are getting even more indirect and hidden as you speak…

      Take a look a this bit of news:

      “This move by MasterCard is just another in a recent long line of corporations and organizations that are taking it upon themselves to define the legality of situations rather than leaving it to the courts. One problem is that the US federal government is allowing the lobbyists for these organizations to dictate right and wrong. The RIAA and MPAA were the big influence behind the government’s seizure of several domains during the last week of November. “…

      From http://www.myce.com/news/major-record-labels-recruit-mastercard-to-be-copyright-cops-37982/

      It is one thing for a business or organization to comply with a court order (or perhaps even a State Dept. order) not do business with a group or person, but these decisions we’ve seen lately by groups like MasterCard to work in parallel with government lobbyists in bypassing the courts is brazenly embracing fascism.

      This is not a boycott by concerned citizen trying to right what they perceive as a wrong. Large corporations can easily use their ‘power of the state without the obligations of the state’ to ruin lives.

        • jerryy says:

          I have to, at least a little bit, defend Apple on this one (the article you link to is more about taking great delight at knocking Apple while singing the praises of Android).

          The WikiLeaks app Apple pulled was not a ‘good’ app in that it was just a wrapper the developer used to charge $4.99 to then send you to the free WikiLeaks website. The developer claimed he was donating some of the proceeds to charity, but at that point the back and forth from various folks makes it difficult to distinguish the noise from the information. In general, Apple has not allowed this type of ‘not really an app’ to be sold from their app store for quite some time, so the real surprise was that this app ever got into the store in the first place. There are plenty of things to knock Apple for, but most folks familiar with the situation say this is not one of them.

          Now, if you want to mention the number of internet backbone providers that are suddenly seeming to bend to some sort of pressure and deny service to ISPs that are hosting mirrors of the leaked documents, weeeelllll I await your analysis :^)

  2. tjbs says:

    The Torture/ Murder/ Treason plot thickens.

    Look for the Republican congress withdraw from the UN rather the open the secrets about who we kill, why we kill and how many we kill. It is about the only thing they really don’t want the citizens to know.

    Read it and weep the number one purpose spelled out in the preamble of our Constitution is;

    “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, Establish JUSTICE.

    How’s that Gitmo thing, for example, coming along President Genius?

  3. jdmckay0 says:

    re: Wikileaks… read a few places they have some less then flattering stuff wrt BofA going up early next year:

    Assange also confirmed that WikiLeaks was holding a vast amount of material about Bank of America which it intends to release early next year.

    “We don’t want the bank to suffer unless it’s called for,” Assange told The Times. “But if its management is operating in a responsive way there will be resignations,” he said, without giving details about the material.

    Shares in Bank of America have fallen amid speculation that it was a WikiLeaks target.

    WRT financial crisis (eg: mortgage bond scams), there’s a lot of there… there on BofA’s behalf. Their amalgam w/Merrill in particular interests me, & what went on between GS US Treasury on that merger. Whole, whole lot of what was under Merrill’s hood never was reported beyond back pages of a few econ rags. Yesterday, Pro Publica had (IMO) very interesting article on Merrill’s employing Enron Accounting methods to hide their bad mortgage bond “bets”:

    The ‘Subsidy’: How Merrill Lynch Traders Helped Blow Up Their Own Firm


    Bank executives came up with a fix that had short-term benefits and long-term consequences. They formed a new group within Merrill, which took on the bank’s money-losing securities. But how to get the group to accept deals that were otherwise unprofitable? They paid them. The division creating the securities passed portions of their bonuses to the new group, according to two former Merrill executives with detailed knowledge of the arrangement.

    The executives said this group, which earned millions in bonuses, played a crucial role in keeping the money machine moving long after it should have ground to a halt.

    Just keeping eye on moving parts of big picture, the feds had to have been deeply involved w/both BofA & Merrill from ’07 on… no way for either to have survived otherwise. Assange would be doing a big public service if he’s got transcripts of those conversations.

    And from Forbes

    In a rare, two-hour interview conducted in London on November 11, Assange said that he’s still sitting on a trove of secret documents, about half of which relate to the private sector. And WikiLeaks’ next target will be a major American bank. “It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume,” he said, adding: “For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails.”

    And speaking of Assange… anyone hear the catfight on Democracy Now between Naomi Wolfe and Jaclyn Friedman, debating legitimacy of rape charges against Assange?

    • sona says:

      yes i did and can’t say jaclyn f was very convincing – also read through assange’s statement re swedish enquiries as published by the guardian, there are still no formal charges, – i am inclined to think this is a smear campaign, particularly so given the timing and sweden’s handling of this

      • jdmckay0 says:

        i am inclined to think this is a smear campaign

        Could be.

        Very very hard for me, however, to understand motive for doing so. US “intelligence”/State Dept arm twisting (bribery)? What’s in it for Sweden?

  4. NCDem says:

    It is hard for me to understand how Julian Assange has been accepted by NYT’s, Guardian, and other major media sources that all have huge connections with the CIA through its journalists, managers, and owners. Is there anything exposed thus far that are huge damages for the CIA? Just the opposite. The reports on Iran and its nuclear program further the efforts of the CIA and our military to paint Iran into a corner. Has Israel been damaged by any of the leaks?

    The leaks do paint the weak efforts by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to control the financial support for terrorists organizations in very vivid colors. Again, we see no links of the CIA in this effort yet we know it exists as we try to infiltrate the Taliban and move further into Pakistan. I wouldn’t be surprised when we announce some huge improvements of our relationship with Pakistan as we begin to draw down our troops and footprint in Afghanistan. All for future expansion of the role of the CIA with the Pakistani intelligence services. A very dangerous move.

    Thus far, Julian Assange has been hailed as hero by the more progressive citizens of our nation. Is he a pawn in this effort? Is he being leaked information that furthers the goals of our government in world political issues? I believe the truth has yet to discussed in the national media and probably will never be.

  5. fuzed says:

    I guess this deserves more than a golf clap. Wonder how fast John Bolton and other fans of secret wars take out a contract on this office of the UN.

  6. fatster says:

    Glad to see this article, EW, particularly with your well-taken points. I’d only add that they are doing those things not just in our names but with our tax dollars–which are desperately needed to better lives of Americans rather than being spent on activities ranging from the petty and dishonest through the deadly.

  7. Mary says:

    File under:
    Guns Don’t Kill People
    Norwegian Newspapers Kill People

    A Norwegian newspaper says it has obtained the entire trove of 250,000 uncensored U.S. diplomatic documents that WikiLeaks has been distributing.

    The announcement Thursday appears to make Aftenposten the first media organization outside WikiLeaks’ five partners to obtain the material — a development sure to heighten U.S. government fears that the public release of some uncensored diplomatic cables could endanger informants’ lives.</blockquote> emph added

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