Mon Dec 13th, 2010 at 07:53:49 AM EST
The release of diplomatic cables by WikiLaeaks has provoked a strong reaction from the United States, but perhaps the most interesting part about them is what they reveal about an ally.
For more on pruning back executive power see Pruning Shears.
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The WikiLeaks release of some (not all!) of the diplomatic cables in its possession has generated an unprecedented response. Glenn Greenwald did an excellent roundup of the different ways both public and private entities are putting the squeeze on its founder Julian Assange. This is somewhat noteworthy considering WikiLeaks has previously released sensitive US government data. The uncharitable interpretation would be that the issue of potential war crimes committed against ordinary Iraqis is not as urgent as the mild embarrassment of American diplomats. Feel free to drop more generous ones in the comments.
One of the most interesting parts of the cables is the American stance towards Spain. More so than perhaps any other country in Western Europe, America has leaned on the Spanish government to do its bidding. Scott Horton translated the following summary from El País, the Spanish paper given access to the cables:
Over the last several years, the Embassy of the United States in Madrid wielded powerful resources in an extraordinary effort to impede or terminate pending criminal investigations in Spain which involved American political and military figures assumed to have been involved in incidents of torture in Guantánamo, violations of the laws of war in Iraq or kidnappings in connection with the CIA's extraordinary renditions program.
The American approach here seems similar to its approach to WikiLeaks: Do not overtly interfere, but work through back channels in order to get relevant parties in line. While it may seem too heavy handed to actively derail investigations in the areas Horton outlines, applying different kinds of pressure through diplomatic, um, persuasion
may be as effective here as it is to have partners sever ties with WikiLeaks.
This is not just a Bush-era strategy, either. Barack Obama has energetically pursued the same policy. Until 2009 it could have been wishfully described as the radical agenda of a lawless president, but now that it has been given the bipartisan endorsement of his successor it is only fair to call it America's formal, official stance.
That is not the only WikiLeaks story El País is pursuing. They are also looking at the death of Spanish television cameraman José Couso, killed "on April 8, 2003 during a tank shelling of the Hotel Palestine where he and other journalists were staying while they were covering the war in Baghdad."
Writer Mónica Ceberio Belaza details how then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and then-Defense Secretary Colin Powell helped frustrate an investigation and defeat the dreaded triumvirate of "family, leftist groups and the press." (As a footnote, Spain's Supreme Court reopened the case in July. However, while it is possible indictments and prosecutions could still come down, it seems like a cold case at this point.)
War and terrorism related issues are obviously the most urgent, but the WikiLeaks cables tell some other interesting tales as well. It turns out the US has been going full throttle in trying to get Spain to adopt America's regressive and punitive stance on intellectual property. (This issue has received even less attention Stateside than the other cables, so I have ventured into the still-evolving world of Google Translate to get some stories from Spanish outlets. While some of the translated language is awkward, wrong and at times impenetrable, the main points come across just fine.)
Once again, it happened in true bipartisan fashion. During the Bush administration the groundwork started to get laid for an Internet crackdown, and last year the Obama administration began applying pressure for an industry-friendly law on P2P networks. One report about the proposed Sustainable Economy Act said that it would allow "the Ministry of Culture could close sites without judicial authorization." The cable dump revealed (via) that the US entertainment industry was heavily involved in writing the language for it. Now that the bill is coming up for a vote, a question hangs in the air: Will lawmakers rush it through as scheduled, or will they pause for a week or two in order to asses the impact of the cables?
Prosecutor Vicente González Mota vehemently denied the charge of US influence in his rendition investigation, saying "what I did was in the interests of Spain and the courts, and did not represent American interests." The revelations of America's meddling in Spain's judicial and legislative systems suggests at the very least a cloudier picture. If there turns out to be a pattern - if, over and over again, Spain's government acts against popular opinion and according to US wishes - then observers could be forgiven for seeing blurred lines between ally and client, or client and protectorate.