Saturday, December 18, 2010

Okay, as long as I'm on WikiLeaks again

FauxNews just published the results of a survey which included several questions about the WikiLeaks saga. Take a look at the questions, which are quoted in full, and see if you notice anything.
Q. 25-27 Now, thinking about the recent disclosures made by the organization known as WikiLeaks. Who do you think should be arrested and put on trial for disclosure of classified government information? First, do you think [ITEM] should be arrested and put on trial?
Q. 25 The person or employee who stole and leaked the information
Q. 26 The owner of the website who received and posted the leaked information
Q. 27 Representatives of the news organizations that published the leaked information

Q. 28 Generally speaking, treason involves an American giving aid to an enemy of the United States. Do you think stealing classified government information should be considered an act of treason, or not?

Q. 29 Do you think the federal government has the right to keep classified national security information secret, or do you think that everything the government does has to be transparent to the public?

Q. 30 Thinking specifically about the recent leaks of U.S. state department cables, do you think those leaks are better described as seriously damaging to U.S. diplomatic relations, or just embarrassing?
So did you notice anything? How about that all of them are biased or false choices? It's closer to a push poll than an opinion poll.

Consider the first one: "Who do you think should be arrested and put on trial for disclosure of classified government information?" Not should someone be put on trial (and then if yes, who) but who should? It's presented almost as a multiple choice that requires at least one "yes, trial" response.

The second: "Treason involves an American giving aid to an enemy of the United States." That is not the definition of treason. Indeed, if it was, a great deal of public information would be considered treasonous because it could in some way aid an enemy. (Hey, you don't think it wasn't "helpful" to the Soviets during the Cold War to know exactly how many ICBM's we had and where the bases were, do you? That was public information. So is now the number of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. You think that can't somehow be of "aid" to our "enemies?")

It fact, "giving aid to an enemy" is not even the usual reference, which is to "giving aid and comfort to an enemy." More than that, treason involves the intent to give such aid and comfort in order to damage the safety and security of the nation. The bar of treason, quite properly, is set quite high.

But having reduced that bar to about ankle height, the poll then gives an either/or: "Stealing classified government information" is either treason or it isn't. Period. No depending on the circumstances, no "sometimes," no measure of intent or effect, no question of if it's actually damaging or not, just yes or no. False forced choice.

(And I have to point out again that there was no "stealing" of government documents here. The documents never left the government's hands and it was never denied use of them. They were copied, they were leaked, but they were not stolen.)

The third: Again, a false forced choice, an all or nothing. No "sometimes," no "some things can be secret but it should be as few as possible." It's brick wall or clear glass. Either we get to know only what the government in its infinite self-interested judgment chooses to tell us, or there are absolutely no secrets at all and what time Barack Obama got up to pee last night is public information.

And the fourth: the documents had to be either "seriously damaging" or "just embarrassing." How about a choice of "had no real impact at all?" This time I suppose it's not a false forced choice, but it is a false limited choice, as it assumes an impact.

And just to round this out, the very last question in the poll was: "When you think about politics, do you think of yourself as a Democrat or a Republican?" Any other choice, even "independent," even after all the talk all over the mass media about the importance of "the independent voter," had to be volunteered.

Just in case you're curious, this is how I would have answered the survey:

Who should be put on trial? None of them.

Is stealing classified information treason? First, I assume you mean "releasing" or "transmitting" rather than "stealing." Theoretically, I suppose in some circumstances it could be part of an act of treason depending on your intent and what you did with the info, but is it, is the act itself treason? Don't be stupid.

Total secrets versus total transparency? I can see the argument for keeping some secrets, but if those are my only choices, I think of Thomas Jefferson, who said "given the choice between a government with no newspapers and newspapers with no government, I should unhesitatingly choose the latter," and say transparency.

Damaging versus embarrassing? They were for the most part, to the extent they had an impact, merely embarrassing - which is unfortunate because there is much about US foreign policy that deserves to be damaged.

Think of myself? Democratic socialist. Um, I guess that'd go under "other." Yeah.

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