AMERICANS ARE properly scornful when governments in China, Iran, or Zimbabwe try to protect secrets by censoring the press or Internet. That scorn is rooted in a well-founded belief that governments are best able to correct their mistakes when the public knows what is being done in its name. Accordingly, no branch of the US government should be trying to punish the organization that posted online a hard-to-watch video of innocent civilians being cut down by a US helicopter gunship in Baghdad in 2007.
The classified video was shot from an Apache helicopter. It is accompanied by the voices of soldiers misinterpreting what they see on the ground and seeking and receiving permission to fire at unsuspecting civilians. The soldiers mistake a video camera for a weapon, and among those they kill are two Reuters journalists.
Reuters tried unsuccessfully to get the video released through a Freedom of Information request. It went viral on the Internet after being leaked to WikiLeaks.org, a nonprofit that invites whistleblowers to disclose secrets that governments and corporations around the world want to keep hidden.
Ironically, a classified US Army counter-intelligence document analyzing WikiLeaks and proposing ways to disable it was also leaked to that organization. With no sense of irony, the army analyst observed that “several foreign countries including China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe have denounced or blocked access to the WikiLeaks.org website.’’ This fact alone ought to make decision makers in this country think twice about trying to block the site.
Hard as it may be to watch innocent civilians being killed by American fire power, this is a price worth paying to have an informed citizenry, the bedrock of democracy.