The first time I heard of WikiLeaks was back in December 2010 when news broke out that the organization leaked United States diplomatic cables to the public. My first reaction was alarm: What a breach of national security! Who’s behind this? Isn’t this espionage? Those responsible must be punished!

But as I obsessively followed the news on WikiLeaks, my mind changed.

First, it hasn’t broken any laws so it hasn’t committed espionage — many will argue that WikiLeaks is, by legal definition, a journalistic organization whose rights to publish state secrets are protected by the rulings from New York Times v. United States.

Second, they haven’t “dumped” 251,287 cables. They partnered with five media organizations including the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, and Der Spiegel, which selected which cables to publish. Those publications then redacted the cables as necessary and sent them back for WikiLeaks to publish. Therefore, only about 3,000 of the 250,000 documents have been published so far and no grave national security concerns have been raised.

Third, WikiLeaks revealed serious issues in U.S. diplomacy.

Perhaps those who closely follow international history and news already knew most of what’s detailed in the cables, but the public — the people who are supposed to monitor government activity — weren’t aware. Does the public know that the U.S. State Department ordered its diplomats to collect credit card numbers, passwords, fingerprints and even DNA from the United Nations leadership? That oil giant Shell claimed it had inserted staff into key positions in the Nigerian government? That the U.S. partnered with China to make sure that little gets accomplished at Copenhagen? That U.S. tax dollars have been used to fund child sex slavery in Afghanistan?

The cables also revealed many actions done in the name of “national security.” One example concerns Tunisia. Those paying attention to international news know that Tunisia recently had a massive uprising that resulted in its president of 24 years fleeing the country. The diplomatic cables show that the State Department knew of the Tunisian president’s corrupt acts as early as 2006, but because of Tunisia’s support for the War on Terror the government did little to address the concerns of oppressed citizens. This resulted in anti-American sentiments among Tunisians, who thought their resistance would be futile since the U.S. would aid President of the Tunisian Republic Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to the end.

Similar events occurred in Egypt. Egypt President Hosni Mubarak has held his post for 30 years and is widely known for his cruel rule. But because of his support for the War on Terror, the U.S. viewed that it could do little to advance real democracy in Egypt. In the end, this behavior has fostered anti-American sentiments among Egyptians who see U.S. support for Mubarak. The billions of dollars in foreign aid spent in buying U.S. corporations’ military equipment don’t help either.

The pattern is clear: counter-terrorism efforts are raising anti-American sentiments.

Tom Malinowski, Washington Director for Human Rights Watch and an expert in U.S. foreign policy, writes on foreignpolicy.com that WikiLeaks “did more for Arab democracy than decades of backstage U.S. diplomacy.” He also mentions that cynicism runs rampant in the State Department. His diplomatic friends often say something along the lines of, “Sure, our diplomatic engagement with country X won’t make human rights better, but neither will sanctions or public criticism or anything else.”

This cynicism isn’t only unnecessary, but harmful. The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings against their oppressive governments show that those people want real democracy, and any effort to stymie it, no matter how well intentioned, may ultimately harm U.S. interests in the long term.

The revelations show that many actions are taken in the name of the United States without its citizens’ knowledge of exactly what the actions entail. Do we want to let the world think that we don’t support democracy? That we would support dictators and let millions of people suffer, all in the name of U.S. national security?

Perhaps Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” This judgment is up to the people to decide — all the raw material is available on the Internet. The truth is the best disinfectant, and I’m only thankful to WikiLeaks for its commitment to it.

Lucy Han is an LSA senior.

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