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Wikileaks and the Case of the Algerian Reporter

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One of the questions that constantly comes up in discussions about Wikileaks is whether their document dumps have actually put anyone in danger.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more written about it, but the fact is that an Algerian reporter has already been put in harm’s way by the latest release of diplomatic cables: How many sources has WikiLeaks put at risk?

Despite warnings from the U.S. government that the publication of secret diplomatic cables could put the local reporters and human rights activists identified in them at risk, WikiLeaks this week published the name of an Algerian reporter who accused Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of manipulating a 2006 parliamentary election during talks with American diplomats, according to a journalists’ rights group.

The reporter’s name was redacted on Thursday, two hours after the New York-based advocacy group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), asked a lawyer representing WikiLeaks, Mark Stephens, to remove it. The disclosure shows that despite measures by WikiLeaks and some news organizations to prevent exposure of individuals at risk, some vulnerable names continue to slip through the cracks.

How safe do you think this unnamed reporter feels today? If I were him, I’d have taken my family and fled the country. Even without a name (and the unedited cables are available all over the Internet) it would be a simple matter for the Algerian secret service to find out which reporter had spoken with US diplomats.

That’s one less journalist brave enough to speak out against government corruption in Algeria, and one less journalist who’s likely to ever trust the US to keep a secret again. He (or she) has been effectively silenced. Is that what Wikileaks is for?

And ironically, this is exactly the kind of person who might one day have been able to expose the wrongdoing of the Algerian government, perhaps with leaked documents posted at Wikileaks.

Wikileaks is sabotaging their own mission, if they’re truly interested in exposing all government malfeasance and not simply focusing on easy targets like the United States. Julian Assange’s mammoth ego, political bias, and blithe irresponsibility has undoubtedly wreaked havoc in the life of this reporter and his/her family.

But what do the little people matter when you’re changing the world?

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