In ethics, openness and transparency are certainly the goals, however, they are not the only values that need consideration in ethical decision-making. In fact, pursuing some ethical principles while neglecting others is inherently unethical.
For example, seeking transparency and openness above other values, creates a lopsided and perhaps unintended, “ethical hierarchy.” One where transparency and openness are placed at the top, giving them an authoritative position over other values that should have equal consideration. In ethical decision-making, neglecting certain values – such as minimizing harm, or maximizing the greater good – is a mistake. Without considering these factors, the decision becomes reckless and endangering rather than ethical.
On July 12, 2007 the US performed an airstrike in Baghdad. The event was recorded on video, which showed US soldiers using machine guns killing people who turned out to be innocent civilians. Two of the victims were journalists, whose cameras were mistaken for weapons. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the recording was the soldier’s cavalier attitude towards the killings. Phrases such as “light ‘em up” are things I’d expect to hear from a video gamer, not from a person who is actually taking someone’s life. The fact the U.S. was at war at the time of the recording is irrelevant to me. I don’t think that there is ever an excuse for this type of disrespect for human life.The video recording the airstrike, dubbed “collateral murder,” was leaked to the internet via the website WikiLeaks.
Created by Julian Assange, WikiLeaks is a website that provides a safe haven for whistleblowers (civilian or journalist) to shed light upon corruption or reveal information to the public. Although Wikileaks tries to keep the “leakers” anonymous, in this case, U.S. Private Bradley Manning was identified as the one who leaked the information. Following his arrest, Manning has been kept in military detention, reportedly enduring inhumane treatment.
It is difficult to determine the exact effect that releasing secure information has had on the war effort and on the attitudes of Americans towards their government. It is essential to democracy for people to be aware of these issues. However, at the same time, to maintain peace and public order, it is essential for certain military secrets be kept secure.
In the debate surrounding Wikileaks, it seems like there are two opposing priorities: are you on the side of liberty and freedom of the press? Or on the side of national and domestic security? I think Benjamin Franklin spoke eloquently when he said ‘those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ That being said, there is always a middle ground. I believe that while it is important for people have access to news that hasn’t been moderated by the government or filtered by regulation. It is also the responsibility of the source of that information to consider ethical principles before releasing it.
I am highly intrigued by hearing the different opinions regarding WikiLeaks and ethics. Some call Julian Assange a modern-day hero, and others think that he is an evil-doer who must be held accountable.
For me, the question that trumps all: have the actions of Assange and Manning make the world a better place?