WikiLeaks is again publishing a trove of documents, in this case classified U.S. State Department diplomatic cables. The whistle-blower website will gradually be releasing more than 250,000 of these documents in the coming months so that they can be analyzed and gain the attention they deserve. The cables are internal, written communications between U.S. Embassies around the world to each other and to the U.S. State Department. WikiLeaks described the leak as "the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain [giving] an unprecedented insight into U.S. Government foreign activities."
Critics argue, as they did with earlier leaks of secret documents regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, that lives will be lost as a result. Rather, lives might actually be saved, since the way that the U.S. conducts diplomacy is now getting more exposure than ever - as is the apparent ease with which the U.S. government lives up (or down) to the adage used by pioneering journalist I.F. Stone: "Governments lie."
Take the case of Khaled El-Masri. El-Masri was snatched in Macedonia as part of the CIA's secret extraordinary rendition program, in which people are taken by the U.S. government and sent to other countries, where they can be subjected to torture. He was held and tortured in a secret prison in Afghanistan for months before being dropped by the CIA on an isolated road in Albania, even though the CIA had long established that it had grabbed the wrong man. El-Masri, a German citizen, sought justice through German courts, and it looked like 13 CIA agents might be charged. Then the U.S. Embassy in Berlin stepped in, threatening, according to one cable, that "issuance of international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship." No charges were ever filed in Germany, suggesting the diplomatic threat worked. The 13 agents are, however, still facing charges in Spain, where prosecutors enjoy some freedom from political pressures.
Or so we thought. In fact, Spain figures prominently in the leaked documents as well. Among the cables is one from May 14, 2007, authored by Eduardo Aguirre, a conservative Cuban-American banker appointed U.S. ambassador to Spain by George W. Bush. Aguirre wrote: "For our side, it will be important to continue to raise the Couso case, in which three U.S. servicemen face charges related to the 2003 death of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso during the battle for Baghdad."
Jose Couso was a young cameraman with the Spanish TV network Telecinco. He was filming from the balcony of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on April 8, 2003, when a U.S. Army tank fired on the hotel packed with journalists, killing Couso and a Reuters cameraman. Ambassador Aguirre was trying to quash the lawsuit brought by the Couso family in Spain.
The U.S. ambassador was also pressuring the Spanish government to drop a precedent-setting case against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials. In that same memo, Aguirre writes, "The Deputy Justice Minister also said the GOS [government of Spain] strongly opposes a case brought against former Secretary Rumsfeld and will work to get it dismissed. The judge involved in that case has told us he has already started the process of dismissing the case."
These revelations are rocking the Spanish government, as the cables clearly show U.S. attempts to disrupt the Spanish justice system.
Ambassador Aguirre told Spain's El Pais newspaper several years ago, "I am George Bush's plumber, I will solve all the problems George gives me."
In another series of cables, the U.S. State Department instructs its staff around the world and at the U.N. to spy on people, and, remarkably, to collect biometric information of diplomats. The cable reads, "Data should include email addresses, telephone and fax numbers, fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans."
WikiLeaks is continuing its partnership with a global group of media outlets: Britain's The Guardian, El Pais, The New York Times, German magazine Der Spiegel and France's Le Monde. David Leigh, investigations editor of The Guardian, told me, "We haven't seen anything yet," with literally almost a quarter-million cables still not publicly revealed.
A renowned political analyst and linguist, MIT professor Noam Chomsky helped Daniel Ellsberg, America's premier whistle-blower, release the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. I asked Chomsky about the latest cables released by WikiLeaks. "What this reveals," he reflected, "is the profound hatred for democracy on the part of our political leadership."
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Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of "Breaking the Sound Barrier," recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.