Hero or criminal

Heather Pickerell, German Swiss International School

The US government has said Julian Assange's WikiLeaks website has put lives in danger. But is this really the case?

Heather Pickerell, German Swiss International School |

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WikiLeaks. The word is tainted with an air of danger. The website has recently reached a new level of notoriety after it published in July the Afghan "War Diary" - more than 92,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan. And just last month, the site distributed more than 200,000 US embassy documents to newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times.

These releases attracted the ire of many countries, particularly the United States, which said the leaks put soldiers' and citizens' lives in danger. But is this true?

So-called "whistle blowers" have definitely proved their worth in the past. Most famously, "Deep Throat" played an important role in providing information on Richard Nixon's role in the "Watergate" scandal to Bob Woodward and Carol Bernstein, journalists at The Washington Post in the 1970s.

Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, in 1971 leaked the "Pentagon Papers", a history of US political-military decision making in Vietnam between 1945 and 1967.

The media plays an important role in a free society in checking up on the government to make sure politicians stay in line.

However, it is questionable whether Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, deserves the title of "whistle blower". The website's releases have indeed potentially endangered people.

The Afghan "War Diary" contained a list of hundreds of Afghan informants and information about special operations. The diplomatic documents described how informants are dealt with by US consulates around the world.

However, on the positive side, the release of a video of a Baghdad air strike, in which 12 innocent people were killed, resulted in the arrest of those involved. The revelation that Qatar's government has done little to counter terrorism has put pressure on it to do more. The storage of cluster bombs in the UK is also a breach of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. All this information will prove to be useful in making sure that these problems are resolved.

On top of that, most of the information revealed recently is arguably of little importance. Much of it confirms what we already knew: the US is trying to get rid of its Guantanamo Bay detainees; Arab countries are worried about a nuclear Iran; China does not care about North Korea; Russia is largely controlled by the mafia.

In fact, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told The Washington Post: "We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents."

Much of the concern about the website is directed at its potential, rather than what it has actually revealed. At the same time, it must be remembered that while we have freedom of speech, we must make sure we exercise it at the appropriate times.