It promoted democracy. It risked national security. Prosecute the Bush Administration.
Since the release of some 400,000 classified government documents on the Iraq ware, the Wikileaks case has been both condemned and praised. The debate continued Wednesday evening during an open forum on Wikileaks and Iraq sponsored by the Middle East Discussion Group at the Josef Korbel School.
"I think it hurts national security," Dean Christopher Hill, former Ambassador to Iraq, said. "It looks like hell when someone is telling you information they shouldn't be telling you and then they have to worry if in two weeks it will be in the Washington Post. I think classification categories exist for a reason. We cannot conduct the nation's foreign policy completely in the open."
That is not to say that the government does no over-classify some information, Hill added. The United States government needs to tell the truth and avoid spinning, he said.
Professor Szyliowicz said the existence of leaks point to a fundamental issue in the relationship between state secrecy and democracy.
"We are dealing with a very fundamental and inherent conflict," he said. "Obviously there's a need for secrecy under certain matters but you also need an informed public."
Szyliowicz said that some people argue that PFC Bradley Manning, 22, or Potomac, Maryland, who is accused of leaking the classified documents to to Wikileaks, performed a public service, told the other side of the story, and promoted democracy by increasing transparency.
Szyliowicz added that others argue that Manning and Wikileaks showed unethical behavior. That they have blood on their hands because the leaks endangered lives, including that of U.S. troops, and were harmful to U.S. national security.
"We authorize the government to keep secrets and expect it to safeguard them to protect its citizens," Szyliowicz said. "But secrecy limits democracy. You need accountability."
One of the key findings from the 400,000 leaked documents was of abuses by U.S. and Iraqi forces going unpunished. Professor Alan Gilbert said the legal doctrine of command responsibility necessitates that military officers ensure that the rule of law is upheld by their soldiers.
"Aggression and torture need to be put out of business," Gilbert said. "American honor is carried by these commitments. There isn't the slightest confusion that waterboarding is torture. If the president waterboarded than damn right he needs to stand trial for it."
Hill added that there has been a lot of improvement in regard to abuses now that the Iraqi forces have been better trained.
"There's a very clear connection between lack of training and abuse," he said.
All of the panelists agreed that the media need to be more responsible in cases where classified information has been leaked.
"I think the U.S. press needs to step it up a little," Hill said. "they do imbeds with the military like this is some kind of boy scout camp. Have they behaved well in terms of being impartial? I think the press needs to police itself and look at its own rules of engagement and see if it is the proper way."
Szyliowicz said that there is a struggle between the institutions of government and media. The government has an obvious tendency to over-classify while the media are under the pressure to publish quickly and are not careful to examine the dangers of publication. Journalists may have selfish motives to promote their career and achieve fame, he added.
"Can the media be trusted to be responsible?" Szyliowicz asked. "Can you trust them to judge the harm or good that's done by publication? The present situation is totally unsatisfactory."
Hill shared the sentiment. Where there should be common ground between the government and media -- protecting sources-- there is none.
"We wanted to protect our sources," Hill said. "Just like any journalist would. When someone puts thousands of documents out there, I'm worried about all the sources. If one person is killed that is too many."
Whether one finds the Wikileaks documents to have been a national security threat or a promotion of democracy, it it clear that changes need to be made in the government and media.
"It's high time that we began widespread public debate on how to strike the right balance between secrecy and government accountability," Szyliowicz said. "Hopefully Wikileaks can lead us to such an outcome."
-M. Schwinn, MA candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies