On Sept. 28, 2010, the Yale Political Union debated "Resolved: Wikileaks should not have published classified documents" at Yale University. This post contains speeches made by members of the YPU.
Speeches on the Affirmative:
1st Affirmative Speech, by Rek LeCounte, a senior in the Independent Party.
This is not a question about rights. I do not know and, frankly, do not care whether WikiLeaks had the right to publish the Afghan war documents they received. The question before us is normative: ought Assange and his team to have published those classified documents? The answer is a resounding no.
There are three simple reasons why WikiLeaks was morally wrong in their decision: 1) they hampered the war effort, 2) they put countless lives at risk, and 3) insofar as they were determined to release these documents, these problems were inevitable.
To the first point, the war effort is not just about bombing places and people, taking territory, and raising flags, as was usually the case in more traditional wars. This project is about counterinsurgency--what the more cynical among you might call "nation-building lite". For our soldiers to succeed in helping the Afghans build some semblance of stability, we need to have them cooperate with us in fighting the Taliban, building infrastructure, and restoring the rule of law. This cooperation is premised in our ability to safeguard their identities and secure them against Taliban retaliation. It is remarkably more difficult to guarantee such protections when self-aggrandizing punks on the run in Australia are publishing documents revealing the names, families, tribes, and coordinates of these crucial informants.
This bring us to the second point, Assange and his ilk are almost certainly directly responsible for Afghan civilian and American deaths. The Taliban explicitly stated that they would comb through the documents to find useful information on those collaborating with the U.S. If those on the left who harp on about justice and those on the right who wax didactic about liberty earnestly stand behind their professed beliefs, it is difficult to see how they can support a random rogue hacker enabling countless deaths in the name of some abstract appreciation for "freedom of information".
If you actually care about the Afghan civilians who only want to live their lives and flourish like anyone else, or our fighting men and women who are risking their lives at the behest of politicians enabled by our votes and tax dollars, then you cannot condone Assange's wanton disregard for their lives. It is one thing to be condemned by the relevant national governments for leaking their military secrets. It is quite another to be condemned by five different human rights groups, including Amnesty International, along with the international press watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders. Assange is a punk, not a journalist or hero.
And finally we come to my third point: this fiasco was inevitable from the moment WikiLeaks was determined to release the documents. WikiLeaks is not a reputable news source and has no idea how to deal with sensitive, classified information. In response to the intense criticism, Assange said he should have been more careful in redacting names and coordinates and that they were working to prevent a reoccurrence of such an egregious mistake. The problem remains that they made the mistake in the first place and will probably do so again because they have no experience whatsoever in dealing with such things. Assange and his ilk haven't the foggiest idea what might or might not endanger Allied troops, Afghan civilians, or anyone else. A reputable news source--even from the "new media", like HuffPo or Politico--would have never made so a mistake because they know what they're doing.
To conclude, it's all well and good to praise government transparency and encourage responsible people to debunk critical lies in the public sphere, and I fully support an imminent end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. However, it is never acceptable to sacrifice real human beings for abstract concepts. Very little, if anything, was gained (by the good guys) by posting the Afghan War Diary. But many lives were lost and will likely continue to be lost, and so many resources have been needlessly squandered. It is essential that we place our faith in people accountable to us who are responsible and experienced enough to deal with the subject matter appropriately. Assange is not such a person and WikiLeaks is not such an organization.
For all the lives lost as a result of his disastrously didactic ego and unabashedly narcissistic drive to see his name in lights, I hope Assange and his cohorts rot in hell. I urge you to affirm this resolution.
Speeches on the Negative:
2nd Negative Speech, by Stephen Marsh, a sophomore in the Party of the Left.
Thank you, MR. SPEAKER.
I never thought I'd be on this floor following Mr. Weltmer after hearing him praise the value, power, and foresight of government - this is a new. Anyways, this is why Mr. Weltmer is wrong: in so saying that we can inherently trust people to filter and disseminate information that we "can handle", he ignores the fact that everything has a political bias. This is no different for his lone editor or disseminator or government than it is for any of us in this room. So then, what we're doing is handing the ability to determine truth to people that are already powerful; in a way, we're practicing a bizarre kind of epistemological relativism wherein the people with the most money and the most guns get to decide what's true.
This situation - where the powerful in society give an incomplete picture of events as they unfold to the people necessary for that power's continued support - is exactly the type of thing Wikileaks is attempting to stop. Only by hearing the stories from those on the margins of our discourse, from those decentralized places that have neither interest nor duty in upholding the existing status quo, can we as the moral supporters of our government actually figure out whether we can and should support the things our government and our corporations do at home and abroad. Using Mr. Weltmer's language, this comes down to transparency, and why it's good for all of our sakes - because it means we can see all of the consequences that the moral and political choices that we as a people make.
Let me explain. The material on Wikileaks is targeted to a very specific audience. It's not the terrorists; they don't have much less of a habit for killing civilians than we do, and regardless of what a bunch of people posting classified documents do, they're not going to be more or less likely to kill American soldiers, because in joining a terrorist group, they've already made the choice to do that. It's not the Afghanis; most of Afghanistan (because of continued military occupation and rampant poverty) doesn't have internet access and rates of computer ownership in Afghanistan is among the lowest in the world, besides that, they don't need to read internal documents to know that US soldiers shot an innocent deaf and blind man down the street three years ago. Those documents on Wikileaks are intended for us, the privileged people sitting at home in America who make the arguments that "we don't kill civilians", or "Pakistan is our ally in the region", or that counterinsurgency is "working", or that the war is "difficult but necessary". Here's what those documents do: they paint a cultural picture - one where what we've heard from the administration and military leadership about the progress of this war seems at best misrepresented and at worst an outright lie. Insofar as the release of these documents can change how we think about the war and our compulsion to support it, their release is a good thing.
But even further, the fact that Wikileaks is disseminating information that those with the greatest interest in maintaining and perpetuating the war saw fit to keep secret - the military and parts of the United States government - gives us the opportunity to see that perhaps the dominant narrative in our political discourse is not a given, and maybe even that the emperor in fact has no clothes. When we lose the opportunity to see information for ourselves, as Mr. Weltmer wants to see happen, and instead what we see are the same repeated analyses and moral judgments made over and over again, we tend to lose sight of how big this war really is, or that perhaps we don't have any solid footing on which to stand in supporting it. What Julian Assange and Wikileaks did was actually raise the war as an issue to be discussed, even if only for a very brief time, instead of something lost in the background and dismissed as a necessary technical detail of our foreign policy. When we see video of soldiers in planes cracking jokes while shooting groups of people with precision bombs, or when we hear about the extent to which we have unmanned drones blanketing the skies above Afghanistan and Pakistan, it becomes very hard to just look away and dismiss all of that. Mr. Weltmer bemoaned the lack of sanitization of the scenes of war from coverage earlier. But, if images of piles of skulls filling ditches or corpses strewn across a field are the consequences of war - and they are - shouldn't we know about and see those things when we make the choice to continue waging wars? To some extent, we can change and modify our first principles and the things we support by being confronted frankly and honestly with the consequences of what we believe: this sort of discourse happens every day between members of this body. If we're really comfortable as a people with letting loose the dogs of war and continuing to feed them for eight years on, then we should be able to look through our computer screens into the dead eyes of a young Afghani child killed in battle crossfire and say "I accept this cost." If we do anything less, we're neither being honest with ourselves nor paying fair tribute to the horrors we cause, and Wikileaks will continue to have a role to fill. I think that's enough to vote in the Negative tonight.
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