The Guardian was forced to publish an embarrassing clarification on Tuesday after an article in its Comment is Free section heavily criticised WikiLeaks for publishing a US embassy cable that was put in the public domain by the newspaper.
The 2009 cable shows that the prime minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai met with American and European ambassadors, whose countries had imposed travel sanctions and asset freezes on the country’s president Robert Mugabe and his top political lieutenants, and private agreed with them that the sanctions should remain in place.
Tsvangirai’s private discussions over the sanctions could leave him open to being charged with treason and, if convicted, sentenced to death.
The original Guardian article, written by former Republican National Committee communications manager James Richardson, claims that: “WikiLeaks may have committed its own collateral murder, upending the precarious balance of power in a fragile African state and signing the death warrant of its pro-western premier.”
But the Guardian was forced to later admit that the cable “was placed in the public domain by the Guardian, and not, as originally implied, by WikiLeaks”.
The headline of the article has been amended from “WikiLeaks’ collateral damage in Zimbabwe” to “US cable leaks’ collateral damage in Zimbabwe” and the image caption has also been amended.
But the main body of the article still includes numerous strong criticisms of WikiLeaks over the publication:
And so, where Mugabe’s strong-arming, torture and assassination attempts have failed to eliminate the leading figure of Zimbabwe’s democratic opposition, WikiLeaks may yet succeed …
Before more political carnage is wrought and more blood spilled – in Africa and elsewhere, with special concern for those US-sympathising Afghans fingered in its last war document dump – WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it – at least to those who understand the value of a life.
Update: Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz has published a blog post today explaining the error.
Some critics saw malice in the publication of the Richardson piece in the first place: why would the Guardian point the finger at WikiLeaks knowing it had published the cable? In fact, neither Richardson, a first-time contributor to our comment website, nor the US-based editor who handled it, were aware of the somewhat complicated process through which (most) cables were published. The piece was posted on the bank holiday after Christmas. The Guardian’s WikiLeaks editing team was not around. They were taking a well-earned break after months of working on the documents.