Week In News: WikiLeaks

The whistleblower website WikiLeaks has released nearly 400,000 documents related to the war in Iraq. Host Guy Raz talks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about that story and others from the past week.

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Mr. JULIAN ASSANGE (Editor-in-Chief, WikiLeaks): In our release of these 400,000 documents, we have seen that there are approximately 15,000 never-previously documented or known cases of civilians who have been killed by violence in Iraq.

RAZ: The voice of Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of the website WikiLeaks, from a news conference today in London today.

James Fallows of The Atlantic is with me now for a look at some of the ideas behind the headlines. Jim, it's been a while since the Iraq War has been in the headlines. Assange said that he timed the release of these documents to the U.S. midterms. What do you make of what you've seen so far of some of these documents?

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (News Analyst, The Atlantic): You know, like you and like all of our listeners, I haven't looked at these things and anything like their full scope. There are hundreds of thousands of them. But the reports, so far, suggest to me that, again, there's going to be sort of an arms' length remove between lots of the things that are revealed in these documents apparently and the main forces of American politics.

And what I mean by that is the following. Now, after the Afghanistan release, there didn't seem to be a lot of political contention about that, and the campaign is going on. And in this one, my sense is that this will be very important historically. But in terms of mainstream discussion, we may have the same gap that we had with the first release.

RAZ: It really is amazing because after the first release, the Pentagon, of course, was up in arms and was talking about how this put its troops in danger and its sources in danger. But it seem to sort of go away. This story, again, I mean, two years ago, three years ago, this would have been the biggest story in the country. And it doesn't seem to be the case now.

Mr. FALLOWS: I think it is quite marvelous in a sense of causing wonderment aspect of our politics right now is that two big wars that are going on, which are costing hundreds of billions of dollars, which have cost thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of lives around the world, seemed to have vanished from political discourse.

RAZ: Jim, I want to ask you about Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. He is in Asia this weekend, and he has been meeting with other representatives from the world's biggest economies. They have agreed to balance out trade, in theory, and to avoid a currency war, and there's been a lot of talk about a possible currency war, obviously with China as well. Are any of these sort of casual agreements likely to have any major impact on our economic situation?

Mr. FALLOWS: It is very rare the G20, by striking the agreement, really has much effect on any economies. The plan that Secretary Geithner proposed was actually quite clever, I think. And the question is, is it too clever, too clever by half?

It says that either chronic deficit or chronic surplus country is above a certain threshold will have to correct their policies to bring themselves back into order. And the way the categories are set up is essentially, it's really only China that it's in the chronic surplus category. Germany is also sort of there, and Saudi Arabia and Russia.

But the caveat, China is really the one. And the U.S. is the one that really would be affected by the chronic deficit. So I think it is a way to work around what he's trying to avoid, which is a head to head China versus U.S. struggle for face and national dignity and all the rest.

RAZ: Sticking with Asia for a moment, Jim, I'm fascinated by this story, this sort of brewing dispute between China and other Asian nations about the delivery of rare earth metals. These are apparently the metals that are used in electronics like iPods and cell phones. I didn't realize that China actually owns the market on rare earth metals. Can you explain what's going on?

Mr. FALLOWS: The reason China has been so much the market leader over the past decade, mining and distilling these things is quite dirty and dangerous and polluting work. And for various reasons, it had been easier for China to do that than other countries.

And so, China has become de facto the world supplier. And there is great dispute going on now about whether the Chinese suppliers are or are not cutting off or threatening to cut off supplies to other people. If they're doing that, is it unintentional? They don't know where the ripple is heading up. Is it quite intentional? All these things are in the miasma.

If there were an embargo, the U.S. used to produce them. So if the prices go up because of some shortage, there's ways for the rest of the market system to respond.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. He joins us here most Saturdays. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.

Jim, thank you so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy. My pleasure.

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