Belfast Telegraph

Nuala McKeever: Leaks or no leaks, just why is there a need for secrecy?

If Will Shakespeare were alive today, chances are he’d have written Hamlet’s famous soliloquy thus: “To leak, or not to leak, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to be aware of the lies and cover-ups of outrageous government, and do nothing about them, or, to lift your finger against a sea of secrets, and by clicking, expose them?”

He might even have been the Julian Assange of his day, in which case the site would’ve been called Willi-leaks and everyone would have the mental picture of a man with a small wet stain on his chinos.

In all the furious debate about the leaking of government cables, the main arguments have been between whether or not it is illegal and/or immoral to reveal state secrets.

For those who say it is illegal and immoral, no punishment seems too great for Julian Assange. No lengths are too long to go to in the pursuit of this individual.

If that means holding Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old who sent Wikileaks footage of a US Iraqi bombing mission that killed 37 people, in solitary confinement for seven months to the point where he’s deemed mentally and physically a wreck, then so be it.

To get Assange, and punish him for daring to reveal what the US secretly thinks of the despotic regimes it has dealings with, the US, defender of freedom and democracy, is happy to behave like the despotic regimes it normally invades. Obviously it can’t invade itself. Although, if it had enough oil reserves, it might.

For those who think it’s morally correct for this info to be leaked, no defence of Assange is too great. He is the Messiah of whistle-blowers and any criticism of him is simply trumped up and politically motivated.

Deadlock. Like the traffic in NI after a couple of inches of snow, nothing’s going nowhere.

But the one question I haven’t heard debated at all, is a very fundamental one.

Why is there a need for secrecy in the first place?

If you’re shouting, “National security, you pinko-lefty moron!” then, QI-style, a huge buzzer is sounding to demonstrate that you’ve plumped, wrongly, for the bleeding obvious.

Think about it. Why do governments need to cover up?

Seriously. Why can’t they admit to making mistakes? Why can’t they be straight in their dealings with others? Why can’t they be honest about their motives?

Governments, like individuals, resort to covering up what’s really going on because they fear the consequences of being honest. This begs the question of why they’re doing anything that they can’t stand over in the first place?

If a war really is about saving innocent people and not about profit for big business, then stand over your actions.

If Arab regimes are supporting the terrorists you’re fighting, then say so.

If you’re keeping those regimes sweet because you want their oil and that’s actually more important than saving lives, then tell us that. Then we can actually make choices.

Easier said than done, I know. Just out of interest, next time you’re about to lie, ask yourself why you’re not telling the truth.

And don’t be misled by the “Oh I can’t, it’d hurt their feelings” red herring. If you probe enough, it always comes down to defending yourself.

If we could at least admit that, then maybe we could actually start to talk honestly.

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