Websight: WikiLeaks.org

Alex Court looks at a haven for leaked official documents

WikiLeaks.org featured in news bulletins last week after it posted a video of an American helicopter on patrol in Baghdad in 2007. The footage – available to anybody with an internet connection – shows U.S. troops murdering civilians.

The description provided reads as follows: “The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”

During the film’s 17 minutes, you witness the deaths of about twelve people. It seems at first that you are watching the latest Bourne film, before you remember that the people writhing in pain on the dusty pavement had families and real lives. They had jobs and a favourite meal – but they’re vapourised in front of your eyes when a trigger gets pulled. The footage is deeply disturbing.

The video has two main potential consequences. The first, which the site’s webmasters emphasise, is greater accountability – with the U.S. army being internationally shamed. The second is that teenage kids logging on will seriously damage their mental health. Until suitable online age-checks are devised, this website may cause as much harm as good.

The idea behind Wikileaks is that anyone can anonymously post official documents or other information that exposes corruption or abuses of power by governments or corporations. Some documents uncover what equipment the U.S. army is really buying for use in Iraq, while others explain what goes on behind the iron curtain at Guantanamo Bay.

It is a bizarre experience for unauthorised people, like myself, to read these affairs of state. Wikileaks provokes a paranoia that a SWAT team are about to break down the door. There is also the inkling that the content is spurious – that is, until you realise this source is endorsed by a long list of recognisable organisations including the Associated Press and the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard University. It is also denounced and/or blocked in China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, and Zimbabwe.

The Guardian calls WikiLeaks “…an uncensorable and untraceable depository for the truth, able to publish documents that the courts may prevent newspapers and broadcasters from being able to touch.” Whether this information should be so available is a question that remains unanswered for me. Decide for yourself at www.wikileaks.org.