Friday, December 31, 2010

Wikileaks: State Department is not always so big on free speech

A new Wikileaks cable reproduced by Aftenposten shows that the US was worried about the potential  republication of the Mohammed cartoons on the first anniversary of the cartoon crisis.

While the US diplomats did not pressure the newspaper to desist from running the cartoons, they were clearly worried that it might happen and they - understandably - wanted at least some warning so they could inform US interests worldwide to be on alert for possible violent riots. The Danish government made it very clear that they felt that freedom of the press was a priority and told the US that what would happen if they tried to pressure the newspaper Jyllands-Posten:

In a subsequent conversation with the Ambassador September 26, [Prime Minister Rasmussen´s national security advisor, Bo] Lidegaard confirmed that "Jyllands-Posten" was weighing a second run of the cartoons but indicated that the government did not want to get directly involved in the matter. So sensitive was the issue, Lidegaard told the Ambassador confidentially, that the prime minister´s office had made a conscious decision not to alert the foreign ministry or the intelligence services. (RAO´s sounding of a senior intelligence official days earlier suggested that the service was not paying any attention to the looming anniversary.) Furthermore, Lidegaard explicitly warned against any attempt by us to openly influence the paper´s decision, which, if made public, the prime minister would have to condemn, he said. Lidegaard agreed, however, that no harm would come from a straightforward query from us to "Jyllands-Posten" about their plans.
But the conclusion of the cable has a phrase that indicates that official US policy states that freedom of the press is not as high a priority as it is in Denmark:

This episode illustrates that the Danes have drawn mixed lessons from their experience in the cartoon crisis. These lessons have positive and negative implications for the U.S. On the good side, the Danes have stepped up engagement in promotion of democracy and reform abroad, especially in the Middle East. They now recognize the need to improve integration and outreach to the country´s immigrant communities. Since the cartoon crisis, they have extended troop mandates in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the negative side, though, this popular center-right government has hardened its views on the absolute primacy of free speech. The prime minister appeared willing to let Jyllands-Posten dictate the timing of the next Islam vs. West confrontation without question or open discussion within the government. While this particularly vulnerable moment of the cartoon anniversary may pass without violence, our discussions this past week remind us that the Danish front in what they see as a clash of civilizations could reopen at any time.
Again, I can understand why the State Department would want to have input on events that could have worldwide ramifications, such as a new cartoon crisis. But it is jarring to see a State Department cable say that free speech is considered a "negative."

(h/t Zach via Facebook)