Government Allowed To Pretend That WikiLeaks Documents Are Still Secret

A federal judge ruled yesterday that the U.S. government can continue to act as if diplomatic cables already released by WikiLeaks are still secret. The decision came in a Freedom of Information Act case in which the ACLU requested 23 diplomatic cables that had been posted online and widely discussed after they were released by WikiLeaks.

Even though the cables had been released by WikiLeaks, the government was only willing to release redacted versions of 13 cables and withheld the other 12.

The cables [the ACLU] requested reveal the diplomatic harms of widely criticized U.S. government policies, including torture, detention and rendition of detainees, detention at Guantanamo, and the use of drones to carry out targeted killings. The State Department claims that the withheld cables are classified, and thus so secret that they cannot be released—despite the fact that they are already accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection and a passing interest in current events.

In order to avoid releasing its own copies of the cables, the government was required to prove to the court that doing so would cause harm to national security. It offered explanations of why releasing secret State Department cables might harm relations with foreign governments or disclose sensitive information, but failed to explain what harm would come from releasing cables that are already available to the public in full, and that the government has admitted have been leaked. […]

It’s hard to reconcile the court’s decision with the goals of FOIA, which is described by the government as “the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.” The government has reacted aggressively to the WikiLeaks disclosures. Not only is it refusing to comply with FOIA requests or declassify documents that have already been release, Private First Class Bradley Manning, accused of supplying the documents released by WikiLeaks, has been treated harshly and faces a possible life sentence.

Alex Brown