Interesting WikiLeaks Tidbits

by Kevin Jon Heller

Three stories to mention.  First, Moreno-Ocampo plans to introduce WikiLeaks cables in the trial of the six Kenyan defendants:

This emerged as he prepares to hand over the last batch of the evidence he will rely on in the September hearing against three of Kenya’s six post-election violence suspects.

The evidence to be released on Wednesday relates to the cases against Eldoret North MP William Ruto, Tinderet MP Henry Kosgey and radio presenter Joshua Sang, whose hearings on whether to confirm their charges or not start on September 1.

Among the cables is one prepared by former US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger on February 27, 2008, which was titled Behind a Calm Facade, Hardliners Prepare for More Violence.

The cable says that even as Kenya cooled down, the warring parties were coming up with strategies for more fighting. There are also two other cables relating to visa letters sent to some of the suspects or their close allies.

Mr Kosgey is mentioned in one of the cables as being among those who should get visa bans for allegedly supporting Kalenjin youth groups who engaged in the violence.

The cables are classic hearsay, of course, but hearsay is admissible at international trials.

Second, readers may recall that a Swiss banker, Rudolf Elmer, was imprisoned by Swiss authorities about six months ago for allegedly leaking bank secrets to WikiLeaks on two CDs.  It turns out that the CDs contained no secret information at all — but that hasn’t stopped Switzerland from continuing to detain Elmer without charges:

Jack Blum, a U.S. lawyer and former congressional investigator who has represented Elmer and other offshore-banking whistle-blowers, told Reuters that it was also his understanding that “there was nothing” on the discs.

Blum said it was “completely out of order” for Swiss authorities to detain Elmer without charge or trial for more than six months. “In civilized places, you don’t hold people without evidence and without charges,” Blum said.

Blum said he understood that the most recent Julius Baer data Elmer could have had access to dates from 2002, and that it came from the Cayman Islands, not Switzerland.

Corinne Bovard, spokeswoman for the Zurich prosecutor’s office, confirmed to Reuters that Elmer was still being held without charge by cantonal authorities. She said that earlier this month, a judge gave prosecutors authority to continue to detain Elmer, at the prosecutors’ discretion, until October 1, although he has the right to appeal to higher courts.

Bovard acknowledged that Elmer’s detention was prompted by his public hand-over of the discs to Assange. She said that one of the grounds on which authorities continue to detain him is suspicion that if he were released, he might destroy evidence.

Bovard said that prosecutors and the courts would not have sought or authorized Elmer’s continued detention without charge unless they had some evidence that he violated Swiss law.

I love Bovard’s final point.  I guess in Switzerland detention without charge (or explanation) is fine, because, you know, there has to be a good reason for it.

Third, and finally, Zimbabwe has announced that it will not bring treason charges against Morgan Tsvangirai for discussing how to peacefully remove Mugabe from power with US offiicials, discussions revealed by a WikiLeaks cable first published by the Guardian. In January, the Guardian published a ridiculous editorial by a Republican political operative arguing that, if Tsvangirai was tried and executed for treason, WikiLeaks would have blood on its hands.  As I pointed out at the time, the Guardian published the editorial even though it knew that it, not WikiLeaks, had first published the cable in question — and then waited eight days to (quietly) acknowledge that fact.  The Guardian is one of my favorite newspapers, but its decision-making with regard to the editorial was unconscionable.  And even worse was its Deputy Editor’s defense of that decision-making, which tried to argue that it was fine for the newspaper to claim that “WikiLeaks” released the cable, because that was simply acceptable journalistic shorthand:

It’s important to remember a bit of context: during the whole period “WikiLeaks” became shorthand used by virtually all journalists the world over for the entire project. This was partly – or even mainly – to give them credit for being the main source (or intermediary) for the material. So, day after day, news organisations such as the BBC and other newspapers reported that “WikiLeaks today revealed that …”

It was often equally true that it was the Guardian, or El País, or the New York Times, which had “done the revealing”, not to mention much of the time-consuming work of finding, editing and redacting the material. But it was a piece of widely understood journalistic shorthand. The material was routinely referred to as a “WikiLeaks revelation”, including in the Guardian – ironically, perhaps, because we did not want to look as though we were stealing WikiLeaks’s thunder or glory.

The vast majority of Guardian stories would use the same formula: “In documents released today by WikiLeaks it was revealed that xxx …” That gave WikiLeaks the credit it both deserved and sought – and was preferable to the alternative: “In documents released today by WikiLeaks, the New York Times, the Guardian, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegel.”

The news piece to which Greenwald objects referred to “confidential talks with US diplomats revealed by WikiLeaks”. But that was in keeping with the way the Guardian – and other media – covered all disclosures in the cables. We used a similar formula in stories about China, Bangladesh, Russia, the Middle East and South America. It did not reflect any attempt to lay exclusive responsibility at the door of WikiLeaks, any more than it was an attempt to shirk our own.

I have seen some pathetic defenses of journalistic misconduct in my time, but this one is truly memorable.  The Guardian published an editorial that claimed WikiLeaks would have blood on its hand if the cable led to Tsvangarai’s execution even though it had actually released the cable.  But that’s fine, because all the cool journalist kids were doing it and the Guardian desperately wanted to avoid stealing WikiLeaks’s “thunder or glory.”

Because nothing says “glory” like being responsible for having an opposition leader murdered.

4 Responses

  1. Not sure I quite follow your point on the WikiLeaks editorial.  WikiLeaks provided the Guardian with the cables, and the editorialist wasn’t from the Guardian.
    True, the Guardian would be complicit in the act they’re being accused of by the editorial they published, but I didn’t think that guest editorials normally were considered to be the view of the paper itself.

  2. I didn’t say they shared the editorial’s opinion.  The problem is that they published an editorial blaming WikiLeaks for something they, not WikiLeaks, had done — and then said that was fine, because they were just using journalistic shorthand.

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