London: The Guardian has defended its decision to publish hundreds of secret US memos released by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
In an editorial late Sunday, the centre-left newspaper argued that most of the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks had already been posted on a US government intranet site with a "very wide" audience and were thus barely secret.
"These confidences were posted on a US government intranet... for a very wide distribution among diplomatic, government and military circles," the newspaper argued.
"They may have been marked `secret` but all secrets are relative: there are around three million Americans cleared to read material thus classified," the paper stated.
In the same paper, the columnist Simon Jenkins, a former editor of The Times of London, argued that the Guardian and other papers such as The New York Times and Le Monde which also published the memos, had acted responsibly in their handling of the material.
The papers had informed the US State Department of the areas covered by the leaks and invited "representations" from them, agreeing to `redact` some of the material where necessary.
The papers, of course, "could not be party to putting the lives of individuals or sources at risk", Jenkins said.
But: "The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment," he argued.
Earlier, the government had condemned the release of the documents.
"We condemn any unauthorised release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the UK," a Foreign Office statement said.
"They can damage national security, are not in the national interest and, as the US have said, may put lives at risk. We have a very strong relationship with the US government. That will continue."