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WikiLeaks and the Public Interest?

Civil society groups and analysts discuss the benefits of releasing classified information to the public.

Reactions to the recent releases by WikiLeaks have ranged far and wide across the spectrum and been voiced with much fervour. Meanwhile, the over-attention to some of the less important details revealed and the intrigues surrounding Julian Assange, the founder of the whistle-blowing site, has been criticised by media watchdog groups.

But the question that has been overlooked in all of this is: just how valuable is the information revealed for leading members of civil society - public interest lawyers, human rights investigators, foreign policy analysts and critics? And has WikiLeaks helped or hindered their cause?

Al Jazeera put these questions to members of civil society in the US and beyond.

Legal experts and litigators have described the information revealed by WikiLeaks as "extraordinarily useful" in terms of providing evidence for legal pursuits and government accountability. Human rights analysts, meanwhile, explained that the Iraq and Afghanistan document dumps "present an unvarnished and often compelling account of the reality of modern war" - noting how a number of previously unknown details helped to further their work by "putting more meat on the bare bone". And, for their part, foreign policy analysts and critics have praised the releases for exposing the foreign policy failings of the Obama administration.

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As Phyllis Bennis, a foreign policy analyst with the Institute of Policy Studies, put it: "WikiLeaks isn't the Pentagon Papers, it is the raw materials the Pentagon used to write the Pentagon Papers. The challenge for civil society is to use this raw material to write our own Pentagon Papers."

If present indications are a reliable measure, when it comes to the information revealed by anonymous sources and released by WikiLeaks, many leaders of civil society and public interest workers will be doing just that - and far more - well into the foreseeable future.

(To read the complete piece, click here.)

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