Published on The Oklahoma Daily, by the Editorial Board, December 6, 2010.
It appears we’re inching closer to a brave new world.
In the wake of WikiLeaks’s latest release of thousands of cable records from multiple U.S. embassies, the government is revealing just how little it thinks of the First Amendment.
Students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs were warned by an alumnus now working for the State Department that posting documents leaked by WikiLeaks, even talking about them, could threaten their prospects for serving in the federal government.
In an e-mail sent to students, Columbia University’s Office of Career Services said this: … //
… If Boren were encouraged to pass a similar message to OU students, we certainly hope he would reject it on the grounds of our basic civil rights.
Even more, we hope Boren lets his old friends and contacts in the government know just how damaging their efforts are to the prospects of a free and democratic society. As a member of President Barack Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, he ought to recommend the administration scale back its iron-fisted efforts to censor discussion.
This can all be done without endorsing the actions of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. We recognize the need for confidentiality in certain aspects of our government’s dealings with other nations.
But after several years of war, declining world stability and increasing loss of life in Afghanistan and Iraq, you can’t blame people for wanting answers. If this is how it happens, then it happens. Don’t punish the students for having an opinion. Do not punish them for their desire to understand our government’s crucial role in global security.
Who’s to say that students who read the material and comment on it aren’t fit to serve in the State Department? As Hugh Sansom, a master’s student from New York, said in an article in The Huffington Post about this issue: “They seem to be unable to make the distinction between having an opinion and having a contractual obligation to keep a secret.”
After reading some of the leaked documents and discussing them, some students may be inspired to work in such a civil service job to inject some humanity back into the system. If the State Department finds comments about WikiLeaks material on someone’s old Facebook or Twitter posts, it would be foolish to assume that it means they would intentionally leak government documents.
Students need to band together and make it clear they will not stand for the government’s reactionary efforts to stop discussion about its role in international affairs.
As American revolutionary Thomas Paine said, “It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government” … (full text).