On newspaper websites and blogs, the leaked U.S. government documents from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have probably constituted the biggest news story this week. Nevertheless, scores of U.S. government employees and even the lawyers defending the Gitmo detainees are prohibited from viewing the files on the Internet, reports The New York Times. The Justice Department insists the documents remain legally classified and are not to be viewed unless given explicit consent in secure government facilities.
The absurd rule is having all sorts of unforeseen, often comical consequences that the Times highlights. State Department officials are scared to view the documents at work so they wait until they get home to view them online. Columbia University warns its students that opining on the leaked documents on the Web could cost them a government job sometime in the future. Employees in the Air Force have been told their family members could be prosecuted for espionage if they lay eyes on the leaked files.
Some of those draconian threats have been modified as of late but the restrictions on the defense lawyers and others remains. And that's having serious consequences. “It’s important to be able to use these documents to shape and inform the discussion in the public square,” said Joseph Margulies, a Northwestern law professor who represents a detainee accused of terrorism. Researchers at the Congressional Research Service who dutifully record facts on the nation's wars and foreign relations have also been hamstrung. Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists tells the Times that researchers can't quote the documents obtained by WikiLeaks. "It's the definition of self-defeating," he says. "It doesn't serve the interest of Congress or the public."