Why EL PAÍS chose to publish the leaks

Javier Moreno, the editor of the Spanish newspaper EL PAÍS, writes:

Two senior journalists from EL PAÍS met with Assange in Switzerland on several occasions, but I have only met him once, although I have spoken to him on the telephone several times. Those conversations were limited to establishing a timetable for publication of the leaked documents, and to agree on measures to protect the lives of people who might face the death sentence, or were operating in countries where there were no legal guarantees.

It is also important to establish that at no time did Assange ask for money in return for providing access to the leaked documents, nor would EL PAÍS have agreed to such terms. The documents’ reliability are beyond question, and nobody – not even opponents of their publication – have questioned their authenticity. The obstinate focus on Assange and his methods, the scrutiny of his motivations, and the repeated attempts to destroy his personal reputation all reflect the colossal lack of respect that US diplomats show for the laws, rules and procedures in the countries where they carry out their missions – beginning with Spain, if the published cables are anything to go by.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the important thing about the WikiLeaks revelations are the revelations themselves, despite the media choosing to focus a substantial amount of its coverage on supposed shady deals that the newspapers involved have cut with Assange; on the way that WikiLeaks is financed; the organization’s alleged lack of transparency; and, worse still, on the allegations of sexual impropriety on his part.

Leaving aside the debate about the future of journalism and new technology in the WikiLeaks age, there is no doubting that the information made available by the whistleblower site is of paramount interest, despite the efforts of governments to hide or ignore the damage that they have caused. For example, after three weeks of revelations, it is now abundantly clear that the US Embassy in Madrid pressured, conspired, and did everything in its power to achieve goals that no ambassador would ever have dared suggest in public, much less insist upon.

Even the least attentive observer cannot fail to be shocked by the maneuvers to shut down three investigations by the High Court that affected the United States, or by the efforts to force Spanish companies and banks to cease trading with Iran, even though they were acting within the boundaries of international law.

Fortunately, Spain’s judges are fiercely independent – as the US ambassador bitterly pointed out on more than one occasion. By the same token, this country’s business and financial community knew that it was not breaking international law by trading with Iran. Nevertheless, the US Embassy exercised obscene pressure in a bid to achieve its aims, as the leaked documents published by EL PAÍS show.

6. A question of ethics. I don’t know who gave the order. I don’t know if came directly from Washington, or if the US ambassador came up with the idea himself. But it is clear from the cables that the US Embassy in Madrid was determined to stop Spanish companies from doing business with Iran. To this end, the Embassy did not hesitate to employ whatever method it deemed necessary, with no heed to the potential costs. And those costs were high. It was equally aggressive in trying to derail Spanish judicial inquiries into torture at Guantánamo, the CIA’s kidnapping of suspected Islamic militants, and the killing by US troops in Iraq of a Spanish cameraman in 2003.

It may yet emerge that the US Embassy broke the law in pursuing its country’s perceived interests. But in any event, what the WikiLeaks cables show is an all-too close relationship between the US Embassy, Spanish government and judicial officials that can only be a threat to the democratic health of this country.

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