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Editorial:

This has never happened before

The State Department papers throw light on the seamy side of American diplomacy

The list seems interminable. American diplomats spy on the United Nations Secretary General and on other senior UN officials, to the extent of learning their credit card numbers. The Gulf monarchies are pressing Washington to start a war against Tehran before Iran becomes a nuclear power and brings them to their knees. Turkey's moderate Islamist government faces continued resistance from secular army officers, and a secret Islamist plan is feared. Beijing orders a cyber-attack on Google at the end of 2009, while planning to ditch its long-time Stalinist ally in North Korea in return for hegemony over a unified Korean peninsula. Pakistan discreetly supports terrorist groups, while its nuclear arsenal grows. To do business in Morocco you have to pass on a cut to the royal house, which maintains its army in a deplorable state. Saudi Arabia is the main source of financing for Islamist terrorism.

The list extends to every continent. The emotional stability of the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is a worry to many; when her husband was alive she passed official business on to him. Cuban-Venezuelan relations are so close that Cuban spies operate freely on Venezuelan soil. The Cubans also treated the Bolivian president for a serious nose tumor. The German coalition government is limping along due to the chancellor's timid, reserved personality. The French president, the most pro-American since De Gaulle, has a despotic streak.

In Spain, the Zapatero government agreed to downplay post-Iraq differences with Washington; blurred the question of the CIA rendition flights; was ambivalent over the prosecution of the murderers of José Couso; and the Spanish prosecutor's office played a questionable role in the inquiry into torture at Guantánamo. Contrary to what he had often promised, former Prime Minister Aznar was ready to return to politics if Spain needed him. Further material may yet emerge from the State Department papers, which this newspaper and others have been publishing having had access to the massive leak mounted by the Wikileaks organization. Significantly, its founder is wanted by Interpol, and his website is being boycotted by servers and service providers.

The publication of the diplomatic cables has stirred international opinion and surprised some governments, who often adduce false arguments to downplay or discredit this news bomb. The security of individual sources has been assured by eliminating names and data that might endanger them, as the reader will have noticed. The media that have published the revelations have acted within the limits sketched out by the US Supreme Court in the Pentagon Papers case, opting for freedom of information and the citizen's right to know. As for the relevance of the information, the pages of this newspaper speak for themselves.

There is no historical precedent for this in term of scope, as it affects so many conflicts throughout the world. The revelations show a seamy side of the political world, about which we all had well-grounded suspicions, but no clear certainty. We are, in a sense, freer now than we were before, which is as much as journalism can hope to achieve.