Protection or Truth?

July 8th, 2011

An argument in favor of secrecy is that secrecy protects people. In places like Afghanistan, or Honduras, the government is powerless to protect those implicated in international intrigues or scandals. Informants and victims may be targeted for retaliation if they lead to negative publicity.

During a conversation with Alan Campbell about Wikileaks, he reminded me that their editor-in-chief Julian Assange published war logs where the names of informants were not redacted but readable. Many of these informants are poor people in remote villages controlled by tribal forces loyal to the Taliban. Assange says he held back 15 thousand documents because they named the informants, but dozens of these names can be gleaned from the reports that were published.

The Guardian, a news source Assange has cooperated with, reports that Wikileaks “tried to comply with a private White House request to redact the names of informants before publication. But the US authorities had refused to assist them.” The official posture to the leaking of classified information is that the information remains classified, even after it is leaked. Perhaps that is why the authorities were unhelpful.

When accused of having “blood on his hands”, Assange defended himself stating “Secretary Gates speaks about hypothetical blood, but the grounds of Iraq and Afghanistan are covered with real blood.” Assange and the Guardian imply that thousands of civilians were killed as collateral damage to the war in Afghanistan. Thus, perhaps, endangering a few dozen would be justified if it embarrasses the US enough to pull out of the conflict and save thousands of lives. But is it justified to endanger them for the greater good?

But not only wars in Asia raise difficult questions like this. Yesterday, the OAS Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented its report (another version here) to President Lobo about the events surrounding the removal of Manuel Zelaya. The commission blamed both Zelaya and Congress for violating the constitution, calling Micheletti’s government “illegal”.

They recommend constitutional amendments to clarify the procedure when the president commits a political crime, in short, to create an impeachment procedure. The 1982 Constitution lacks such a mechanism, and thus, when Congress voted to remove Zelaya, they were overstepping their constitutional powers.

But aside from that, an article by AP correspondent Freddy Cuevas, states that most of the document will remain classified for 10 years, and will be kept in safety in Canada. Among the things that are presumably secret, are the names of 20 people that the report states were killed during protests by excessive police force. The report does not accuse the government of the deaths directly; it says that third parties acting in favor of the government may have been responsible.

Mr. Cuevas’ report may be wrong, and I hope it is. I hope the Truth Commission will soon publish the names together with all its findings. If it does, the following paragraphs may lose their relevance.

Presumably the names of these 20 people are classified to protect their families from retaliation. But the very existence of these people is called into question. Were these deaths really caused by police brutality or were done in the name of the government? Did the deaths occur at all? By making the names secret they are risking making themselves ridiculous: a truth commission that does not say the truth, but remains silent.

Regardless of the guilt or innocence of the government in the alleged deaths, it is not in the interests of President Lobo, or the US that these names come to light. It is better for them for Micheletti’s government to be presumed guilty.

However, by keeping the names secret, there cannot be an investigation or a trial to bring justice to those who caused the deaths. Thus, justice is not served either way. If the government is guilty, the matter well be covered up for 10 years. If it is innocent, they will be presumed guilty for 10 years.

Shouldn’t truth and reconciliation, the very name of the commission who produced the report be more important here? I hope Mr. Cuevas was misinformed, and that we will soon be able to read the commission’s full report. But I may be wrong in my desire for truth, what of the families of the deceased?

  • Alan Campbell

    Good grief. I couldn’t believe the authors think that they can interpret the Constitution of Honduras better than the Supreme Court and the Congress of Honduras.

    This shameful report was written just to get President Obama, OAS, and former President Zeleya released from the hook.

    I really pray that historians can correct this grave injustice one day. Seeing an old former President Obama coming to Honduras to apologize would make my day.

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