The Common Good

WikiLeaks and Government Responsibility

Since WikiLeaks released the first of the leaked government cables for public viewing, the outcry regarding the act has been overwhelming. Government officials are condemning the release; Amazon dropped WikiLeaks from its servers after they received a visit from Homeland Security; and media groups are calling the release an act of terrorism.

While I understand the need for discussing whether the release of these cables might endanger some people, I am uneasy about condemning them simply because they reveal the embarrassing sins of the United States. In our country, we have forgotten that social sin does indeed exist. Governments are not above morality and justice, but, sadly, they often have the power and wealth to hide their sins from the judging eyes of the world. When all people see are the façades governments construct for themselves, and all they hear is the message that unquestioning patriotism is the highest virtue, it is easy for governments to avoid responsibility and accountability for their actions.

I don't believe innocence is bliss. If my government is committing injustices or betraying the ideals of our nation, then the people who it supposedly reports to should know about it. We are the only ones who can hold our government responsible -- if we abdicate that role or if it is denied to us, then our government's sin can abound.

But no one likes being called out on his or her sins. When John the Baptist called out Herod on his sinful ways, Herod beheaded him to shut him up. Intimidation and fear are the government's tools for keeping truth suppressed so it can continue to avoid responsibility. Amazon already gave in to the pressure to be silent; Julian Assange (WikiLeak's founder) is currently in hiding; and the public is being told that revealing the truth is an act of terrorism. We are made to feel guilty for knowing the truth instead of the government owning up to those truths and taking responsibility for them.

Government is complex, I get that. But that doesn't mean that it is exempt from morality. Perhaps WikiLeaks is the martyr that will wake us up to the need to hold our government to those basic standards of morality.

portrait-julie-clawsonJulie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at and

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