Wikileaks Crosses The Line With Zimbabwe Cables

OPINION – When the Pentagon Papers were made available for publication, they went to professional journalists, newspaper editors with the training and expertise to balance the public’s need to know with the need to protect vulnerable lives.

Wikileaks has just proven that it is neither professional nor morally capable of making similar decisions. 

Among the latest documents Wikileaks released were a series of diplomatic cables reporting on conditions in Zimbabwe. While not considered to be one of the world’s more important “hot spots” Zimbabwe’s decades long instability has had a negative impact on the stability of Central Africa.

Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe is ranked among the world’s worst dictators. In February, 2009, Mugabe was forced to form a coalition government with his chief opposition – Morgan Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai has survived several attempts on his life, had his wife killed in an “accident” and was a hunted man for years. Only the unwaiving attention of the world’s powers kept him alive. More than anything else, for the majority of the people of Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai has been a symbol of democratic choice.

The released cables contain our diplomatic service’s analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe along with some less-than-glowing appraisals of Tsvangirai’s ability to be a strong leader able to make the changes necessary in Zimbabwe to rescue it from the hell Mugabe has created.

During Mugabe’s thirty-year regime, the life expectancy for Zimbabwean males has dropped from 66 to 44 years, famine is rampant, productive farms have been destroyed, the economy is beyond collapsed. My grandmother, who came from a Chilean political family, once commented that in Latin America, good leaders were seldom strong and strong leaders were seldom good. That holds true pretty much throughout the world, and seems to be the State Department’s take on the two leaders of Zimbabwe.

None of this would be terribly earth-shattering if not for a group of cables that any professional redacting these documents would have assigned to the bottom drawer of his file cabinet: a secret communiqué from former U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell in 2007, revealing America’s preference for Tsvangirai and assessing his capabilities and separate cables reporting on conversations between Tsvangirai and American diplomats concerning the effects on Mugabe’s rule of the economic sanctions that have been imposed on Zimbabwe.

Obviously, Mugabe can use the American appraisal of Tsvangirai to discredit him, to publicly question his abilities as a leader. That would be a rational politician’s use for this information. Robert Mugabe is not a rational politician. He is completely capable of using this information to order Tsvangirai’s arrest for treason, consorting with a foreign power to overthrow the “legitimately elected” government of Zimbabwe. A show trial and a firing squad would be the only outcome if Mugabe chooses this route.

Wikileaks may have just signed Morgan Tsvangirai’s death warrant. It will take an enormous effort on the part of the diplomatic corps of many nations to prevent that. This isn’t a question of simply insulting some leader by gossiping about him being a dirty old man or questioning his self-esteem issues because of his penchant for press releases bordering on beefcake calendars. These cables can be twisted into a charge of treason that will cost a human life.

Too many people are enamored of the idea of transparency, the public’s right to know, freedom of the press. These are wonderful concepts in the abstract. Real journalists know that they must be balanced against protecting the innocent and not making situations worse than they already are.

This is why CNN’s Baghdad bureau withheld information for years about Saddam Hussein’s regime. They chose to protect lives, even at the cost of not reporting the whole truth. Wikileaks is not capable of making that choice. They are not journalists. They are a bunch of hackers, amateurs and idealists who were handed the mother lode of secret documents and haven’t a clue what to do with them to create the most good with the least damage.