A petition to defend the First Amendment rights of WikiLeaks whistle-blowers is now making its way around the Internet. Question: Why should we defend those who broke the law by declassifying documents related to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Answer: Because history demonstrates that such actions can prove crucial to keeping democracy alive, especially during wartime.
• The torture scandal at Abu Ghraib was only made public when photographs were leaked to the press.
• The U.S. government prohibited media from photographing returning remains of dead soldiers until public pressure forced a change.
• Most recently, a Rolling Stone report forced Gen. Stanley McChrystal to resign for his hostile demeanor toward civilian authorities.
Longtime anti-war activist and former state legislator Tom Hayden is one sponsor of the petition. “By voting for war funding without conditions, Congress has yielded its checks and balances function,” writes Hayden, “and now is being usurped and outperformed in its oversight responsibilities by the twenty-something geeks of WikiLeaks.”
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, revealing a top-secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. His patriotic actions helped bring about that war’s end. Those now attacking WikiLeaks for disobeying the law should study their history and go on reading the documents.