Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wikileaks has all the right enemies. Right?

Mr. Assange doesn't mail bombs, but his actions have life-threatening consequences. Consider the case of a 75-year-old dentist in Los Angeles, Hossein Vahedi. According to one of the confidential cables released by WikiLeaks, Dr. Vahedi, a U.S. citizen, returned to Iran in 2008 to visit his parents' graves. Authorities confiscated his passport because his sons worked as concert promoters for Persian pop singers in the U.S. who had criticized the theocracy.

The cable reported that Dr. Vahedi decided to escape by horseback over the mountains of western Iran and into Turkey. He trained by hiking the hills above Tehran. He took extra heart medication. But when he fell off his horse, he was injured and nearly froze. When he made it to Turkey, the U.S. Embassy intervened to stop him being sent back to Iran.

"This is very bad for my family," Dr. Vahedi told the New York Daily News on being told about the leak of the cable naming him and describing his exploits. Tehran has a new excuse to target his relatives in Iran. "How could this be printed?"

Part of the problem -- for me, at least -- of our political tribalism is that I've been very often tempted to defend the Wikileaks revelations based on the fact that they're making all the right people (like Sarah Palin, National Review and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, above) very, very angry. It's very, very difficult not to take some satisfaction in that.

So honesty compels me to acknowledge that there is not unvarnished good in the Wikileaks disclosures. I'm not certain if the damage will merely be to the American government's internal information-sharing systems, or if it will be broad enough to cause pain, suffering and death for people around the world. I hope the latter, at least, doesn't happen. It might. And those of us who are biased towards letting information be free should acknowledge that such freedom isn't always entirely without consequence.

Still, on balance, I'm happier seeing the information out in the public than locked behind closed doors. And it's difficult to take seriously people who wring their hands about the "collateral damage" caused by Julian Assange when so many of them are the same folks who root on needless American military actions that are far more costly in terms of innocent foreign lives. Collateral damage is apparently only *really* bad when the bad guys cause it.

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