A democracy works best when its government is the most transparent to the people it governs. But there are exceptions.
The first duty of government is to protect the people whom it governs. In order to do that, there must be a certain level of confidentiality least those whom the government is protecting the people from can use that information to usurp the safety of the people.
That's a convoluted way of saying that while our democracy upholds the First Amendment right of a free press, it also must protect the people even if that means withholding certain information that, if released, would endanger the public at large or those individuals charged with protecting our democracy.
Over the weekend, WikiLeaks Web site released thousands of U.S. State Department documents that would argue do just that -- put Americans in danger. Fortunately, the Web site was compromised and many of the documents weren't posted. But it managed to "leak" the documents to many major news outlets. Most of them in the United States wisely withheld specific information that would endanger individuals, but the materials that was released did damage the United States' stature in the world arena.
In order to form a complete picture of touchy diplomatic situations, it is important for U.S. officials and their foreign counterparts to be able to offer blunt assessments that would not otherwise be offered if known they would become public.
Somehow, Pvt. Bradley Manning allegedly was able to obtain thousands of pages of documents and leak them to WikiLeaks, which with little regard for U.S. national security promptly leaked them on the Web, or will leak them.
As shown in the decades' old Pentagon Papers case, publishing the documents is a First Amendment issue and is protected. But the alleged actions of Manning and others to "leak" the information amounts to nothing less than treason and should be treated thusly.
But we have bigger questions: How did a private first class, near the bottom of the chain of command, come to secure such a security level as to have access to all this information? Why is all this information accessible by one individual on one computer? How did this individual manage to download such information and leave sensitive security areas with it?
That should form the crux of a congressional and White House investigation. It's obvious somebody left the barn door open.