According to the cables, King Bhumibol, who has spent the past two years in the hospital for mysterious but reportedly unserious reasons, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and depression. The cables suggest he is largely estranged from his wife, the Queen, who has assumed his power and, with a coterie of loyal military officers, become the real force in Thai politics—“the invisible hand” that orchestrated the 2006 coup, the paramilitary build-up in Thailand’s south, and the “yellow shirt” protest movement against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Meanwhile, Bhumibol’s heir, the Crown Prince, who is regarded by most Thais as a loathsome playboy, comes across in the cables as exactly that. His dog, Foo Foo—who is also officially a Thai Air Marshall—laps at the US ambassador’s plate in one memorable scene.

Thai censors have blocked Marshall’s piece, but that hasn’t stopped Thais, who have grown adept at circumventing digital barriers, from reading it. After posting part one on his website, zenjournalist.com, in June, he picked up thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends, mostly young Thais, overnight. His site had 250,000 hits in its first month. Meanwhile, a group of Thais—on their own initiative, and not without some personal risk—are translating it and have created a site, #thaistory blog, to host the content and discussion.

Marshall says he will publish a similar treatment of the cache of cables from Burma next, and hopes to remain solvent by doing political-risk consulting (the cables are useful for that, too). He deserves a LAUREL for creating, at great personal and professional cost, a detailed public record of power politics and their consequences in a country where information and honest debate have long been suppressed. 

 

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Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.