5 WikiLeaks Hits of 2011 That Are Turning the World on Its Head -- And That the Media Are Ignoring
This article has been updated.
Between Collateral Murder, the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diary, and Cablegate, it appeared as though 2010 would go down in history as the most shocking year in WikiLeaks revelations. Americans discovered that trigger-happy soldiers who have been trained to kill are likely to shoot innocent civilians, including journalists and children. They learned that the US military handed over detainees they knew would be tortured to the Iraqis, and as a matter of policy, failed to investigate the hundreds of reported torture and abuse by Iraqi police and military. The Afghanistan logs showed many more civilians killed than previously known, along with once-secret US assassination missions against insurgents. And Cablegate shed light on a US foreign policy that values self-interest over democracy and human rights at all costs, perpetuating anti-American sentiment in the process.
Is 2011 capable of exceeding 2010's revelations? And what discoveries in 2011 has WikiLeaks unearthed thus far?
1) The Arab Spring: Information is power. In January of this year, the North African country of Tunisia captured the world's attention, as a relentless and inspiring democratic uprising managed to overthrow the autocratic President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in just a matter of weeks. Protests were initially sparked by food price inflation and staggering unemployment, as demonstrated by the self-immolation of a disillusioned young man named Mohamed Bouazizi.
But we should never underestimate the power of information when it comes to stirring things up. The role of the WikiLeaks Embassy cables, which revealed the US government's view of the president and his ruling circle as deeply corrupt, cannot be overlooked.
Of course, Tunisians were well aware of their government’s corruption long before Cablegate. However, the Tunisian government felt threatened enough by the leaks to block access to the Lebanese news Web site Al-Akhbar after" it published U.S. cables depicting Ben Ali and his government in an unflattering light,” says the Committee to Protect Journalists. They went on to block not just WikiLeaks, but any news source publishing or referencing leaked cables that originated or referenced Tunisia. Their repressive reaction to the leaks pushed protesters over the brink, as it epitomized the country's utter lack of freedom of expression.
And if there's anything the hacktivists at Anonymous hate, it's censorship, which is why they retaliated by shutting down key Web sites of the Tunisian government, an effort they dubbed "OpTunisia."
"The Tunisians were the first people in the Arab world to take to the streets and oust a leader for a generation," declared the Guardian’s David Leigh and Luke Harding. There is no denying that WikiLeaks acted as a catalyst in that effort, supplying more fuel to a fire that eventually toppled a regime. This helped inspire the revolt in Egypt and beyond, as uprisings against brutally repressive regimes extended to Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. As the protests spread, WikiLeaks cleverly released key cables revealing government abuse and corruption in those nations, which intensified the protesters' demand for democracy.
Amnesty International recently drew a link between the protests in the Arab world and the release by WikiLeaks of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic documents. In fact, the United Nations recently declared Internet access a basic human right in a report that cites WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring as driving factors.
2) The 'worst of the worst' included children, the elderly, the mentally ill, and journalists. In April of this year, WikiLeaks released the Guantanamo Files, which included classified documents on more than 700 past and present Guantanamo detainees. These files paint a stunning picture of an oppressive detention system riddled with incoherence and cruelty at every stage.
Glenn Greenwald says they shed new light on the persecution of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, who was caged at the camp "for more than six years and then abruptly released without ever being charged,” an injustice he has written about on multiple occasions. Al-Hajj’s crime was working for Al Jazeera. It was also revealed by The Guardian that "almost 100 of the inmates sent to Guantanamo were listed by their captors as having had depressive or psychotic illnesses." Many went on hunger strikes or attempted suicide. Officials in charge also found it appropriate to detain children and old men, including an 89-year-old Afghan villager suffering from senile dementia, and a 14-year-old boy who had been an innocent kidnap victim.
The Guardian also revealed that authorities heavily used unreliable evidence "obtained from a small number of detainees under torture" to justify due-process free detentions. “They continued to maintain this testimony was reliable even after admitting that the prisoners who provided it had been mistreated." Despite President Obama's promise to close it, the shameful, legal black hole that is Guantanamo is still open for business: 172 detainees remain imprisoned at Guantanamo, about 50 of whom are being subjected to indefinite detention.
3) US allies are among the leading funders of international terrorism. Following the secret raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, WikiLeaks released the Pakistan Papers, a batch of previously secret State Department cables specifically dealing with the US relationship with Pakistan. The cables were published in Dawn, an outlet Al Jazeera describes as “Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.”
The documents expose the complicity of senior Pakistani officials in US drone strikes that have maimed and killed hundreds of innocent civilians, including children. A cable from late 2009 reveals Pakistani officials actively encouraging the bombing missions.
Despite longstanding denials, the documents disclose that the US has been conducting special ops inside Pakistan and taking part in joint operations with the Pakistanis since 2009.
The most disturbing, though not surprising, reports show that the Saudis, our supposed allies, are among the leading funders of international terrorism. It appears Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been financing jihadist groups in Pakistan for years. A cable written in 2008 by Bryan Hunt of the U.S. consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, reads: “financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith clerics in south Punjab from organisations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments.”â€¨â€¨The Dawn Article reports that Hunt outlines the process of recruitment for militancy in the cable, describing how “families with multiple children” and “severe financial difficulties” were exploited for recruitment purposes. “The cable details the recruitment of children, who are given age-specific indoctrination and would eventually be trained according to the madrassah teachers’ assessment of their inclination “to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture” versus their value as promoters of Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith sects or recruiters.”
Recruits “chosen for jihad” would then be taken to “more sophisticated indoctrination camps, after which “youths were generally sent on to more established training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and then on to jihad either in FATA, NWFP, or as suicide bombers in settled areas."
Therefore, the US government, well aware for years of Saudi Arabia's disgusting exploitation of children, has remained a steadfast ally of the world's biggest financier of terrorism.
4) World leaders are practically lighting a fire under the Arctic. As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton met with the Arctic Council last month to discuss oil exploration, WikiLeaks, with impeccable timing, published a new trove of cables highlighting a race to carve up the Arctic for resource exploitation. Nations battling to poison the arctic with oil drilling include Canada, the US, Russia, Norway, Denmark, and perhaps even China, which all have competing claims to the Arctic.
The leaks illustrate a frightening reality, where world leaders are greedily awaiting the opportunity to exploit the oil and natural gas that lie beneath the melting Arctic ice, even arming themselves for possible resource wars. A least that's what the Russian Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin hinted in a 2010 cable that reads, "The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources. Russia Should not be defeated in this fight."
A 2009 cable suggests US paranoia about Russia: "Behind Russia's policy are two potential benefits accruing from global warming, the prospect for an [even seasonally] ice-free shipping route from Europe to Asia, and the estimated oil and gas wealth hidden beneath the Arctic sea floor." Russian Navy head Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky is quoted in a 2008 cable as saying, "While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention."
Clearly, banking on the melting of the polar ice caps has taken priority over halting or even reversing the catastrophic effects of climate change. According to an Inside Science News Service report by Joel N. Shurkin, the Arctic contains as much as one quarter of the world's gas and oil reserves “once hidden under huge masses of ice and inaccessible through frozen seas.” However, ice is melting faster than predicted, presenting profitable business opportunities which are leading the Arctic countries to lose sight of longer-term climate issues. Greenpeace oil campaigner Ben Ayliffe underscores the danger of this mentality:
“These latest Wikileaks revelations expose something profoundly concerning. Instead of seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a spur to action on climate change, the leaders of the Arctic nations are instead investing in military hardware to fight for the oil beneath it. They’re preparing to fight to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.”
5) Washington would let them starve to protect US corporate interests. The Nation has teamed up with the Haitian weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté, to analyze some 2,000 Haiti-related diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks. The cables will be featured in a series of Nation articles posted each Wednesday for several weeks. Democracy Now featured a segment on the first in the series, "PetroCaribe Files," which revealed, among other things, “how the United State, with pressure from Exxon and Chevron, tried to interfere with an oil agreement between Haiti and Venezuela that would save Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, $100 million per year or 10 percent of the country's budget.”
The second piece, set to publish this week, "Let Them Live on $3/Day," reveals Washington's willingness to keep Haitian sweatshop wages at near slave labor levels to save American corporations a few bucks. US clothing makers with factories in Haiti, such as Hanes and Levi Strauss, were infuriated after the Haitian government raised the minimum wage from a puny slave wage of 24 cents an hour, to a slightly less puny slave wage of 61 cents an hour.
In a clear symbol of who it serves, the US State Department stepped in to exert pressure on Haiti’s president, “who duly carved out a $3 a day minimum wage for textile companies,” reported the Columbia Journalism Review, which got a sneak peek of the Nation’s piece before it was set to publish. And, according to the Nation's expose, that was still too much: "Still the US Embassy wasn’t pleased. A deputy chief of mission, David E. Lindwall, said the $5 per day minimum “did not take economic reality into account” but was a populist measure aimed at appealing to “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”â€¨â€¨To understand the barbarity of this behavior, consider that “a Haitian family of three (two kids) needed $12.50 a day in 2008 to make ends meet.”
More to come?
These revelations are not the only leaks of 2011, just those I have chosen to highlight. WikiLeaks continues to leaks cables all over the globe. Although they have received little attention in the US press, leaks in countries like Peru, Ireland, Malaysia, and El Salvador are generating headlines, controversy and debate. Perhaps what we have seen from WikiLeaks is just the tip of the iceberg.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been corrected since its original publication for more accurate attribution to original sources.