Europeans Criticize Fierce U.S. Response to Leaks
By STEVEN ERLANGER
Published: December 9, 2010
PARIS — For many Europeans, Washington’s fierce reaction to the flood of secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks displays imperial arrogance and hypocrisy, indicating a post-9/11 obsession with secrecy that contradicts American principles.
While the Obama administration has done nothing in the courts to block the publication of any of the leaked documents, or even, as of yet, tried to indict the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, for any crime, American officials and politicians have been widely condemned in the European news media for calling the leaks everything from “terrorism” (Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York) to “an attack against the international community” (Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton). Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates called the arrest of Mr. Assange on separate rape charges “good news.” Sarah Palin called for him to be hunted as an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands,” and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate, said that whoever leaked the cables should be executed.
For Seumas Milne of The Guardian in London, which like The New York Times has published the latest WikiLeaks trove, the official American reaction “is tipping over toward derangement.” Most of the leaks are of low-level diplomatic cables, he noted, while concluding: “Not much truck with freedom of information, then, in the land of the free.”
John Naughton, writing in the same British paper, deplored the attack on the openness of the Internet and the pressure on companies like Amazon and eBay to evict the WikiLeaks site. “The response has been vicious, coordinated and potentially comprehensive,” he said, and presents a “delicious irony” that “it is now the so-called liberal democracies that are clamoring to shut WikiLeaks down.”
A year ago, he noted, Mrs. Clinton made a major speech about Internet freedom, interpreted as a rebuke to China’s cyberattack on Google. “Even in authoritarian countries,” she said, “information networks are helping people to discover new facts and making governments more accountable.” To Mr. Naughton now, “that Clinton speech reads like a satirical masterpiece.”
The Russians seemed to take a special delight in tweaking Washington over its reaction to the leaks, suggesting that the Americans were being hypocritical. “If it is a full-fledged democracy, then why have they put Mr. Assange away in jail? You call that democracy?” Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin said during a news briefing with the French prime minister, François Fillon. Mr. Assange is in jail in Britain while Sweden seeks his extradition to face rape charges.
Mr. Putin then referred to a Russian proverb that roughly translates as “the pot calling the kettle black.”
“You know, out in the countryside, we have a saying, ‘Someone else’s cow may moo, but yours should keep quiet,’ ” Mr. Putin said. “So I would like to shoot that puck right back at our American colleagues.”
German newspapers were similarly harsh. Even The Financial Times Deutschland (independent of the English-language Financial Times), said that “the already damaged reputation of the United States will only be further tattered with Assange’s new martyr status.” It added that “the openly embraced hope of the U.S. government that along with Assange, WikiLeaks will disappear from the scene, is questionable.”
Mr. Assange is being hounded, the paper said, “even though no one can explain what crimes Assange allegedly committed with the publication of the secret documents, or why publication by WikiLeaks was an offense, and in The New York Times, it was not.”
The left-wing Berliner Zeitung wrote that Washington’s reputation had been damaged by the leaks. But the reputation of United States leaders “is being damaged much more right now as they attempt — with all their means — to muzzle WikiLeaks” and Mr. Assange. They are the first, the paper claimed, to have “used the power of the Internet against the United States. That is why they are being mercilessly pursued. That is why the government is betraying one of the principles of democracy.”
The Berliner Zeitung continued: “The U.S. is betraying one of its founding myths: freedom of information. And they are doing so now, because for the first time since the end of the cold war, they are threatened with losing worldwide control of information.”
Nicole Bacharan, a scholar of the United States at the Institut d’Études Politiques, said that in France, “There is a fracture between those who consider that American diplomacy is efficient and understands the world and has a positive influence and those who are distrustful of the objectives of that diplomacy.” What struck her most, she said, was that “pro-Americans have been harsher than the anti-Americans here.”
But Renaud Girard, a respected reporter for the center-right Le Figaro, said that he was impressed by the generally high quality of the American diplomatic corps. “What is most fascinating is that we see no cynicism in U.S. diplomacy,” he said. “They really believe in human rights in Africa and China and Russia and Asia. They really believe in democracy and human rights. People accuse the Americans of double standards all the time. But it’s not true here. If anything, the diplomats are almost naïve, and I don’t think these leaks will jeopardize the United States. Most will see the diplomats as honest, sincere and not so cynical.”
Even Laurent Joffrin, the editor of the leftist daily Libération, defended the right to diplomatic secrecy and said one must reflect on a “demand for transparency at any price.” States must have secrets, he said, so long as they have oversight from elected representatives. “It is a paradox to see WikiLeaks concentrate its attacks essentially on democracies,” Mr. Joffrin said. “And it is rather comforting to see that the secret exchanges of the great diplomatic powers are very little different in content from what they say in public.”
The strongest attack on WikiLeaks came from Figaro’s editor, Étienne Mougeotte, who called the publication of cables like the one listing sites considered strategic by Washington “a precious gift” to terrorists. The leaks, he said, serve “those who decided to harm American power, to destabilize the world’s large industrial nations, to put in place a maximum of disorder in international relations.”
Mr. Assange, he wrote, “is not the kind, righter of wrongs of the Web that some have wished to present to us — he is at best a dangerous, irresponsible man, or at worst a perverse delinquent.”
Russian officials seemed to be having the most fun with the Americans’ embarrassment, with some suggesting that Mr. Assange get the Nobel Peace Prize. Dmitri O. Rogozin, Russia’s cheeky and quotable ambassador to NATO, suggested that Mr. Assange’s arrest demonstrated that there was “no media freedom” in the West. His “fate,” Mr. Rogozin opined, amounted to “political persecution” and a disregard for human rights.
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