By Lila Rajiva STAFF WRITER
Let me first say that harassing Julian Assange for having published leaked government documents is completely wrong. There’s no evidence so far that anyone has been injured directly because of the leaks. National security (even as understood by mainstream statists) hasn’t been damaged. As for the embarrassment some officials might be feeling, tough. Governments routinely subject their citizens to much worse for no valid reason. As for diplomacy, there’s none worth the name. In high office, all we have are blackmailers, bullies, and bandits. Some outing and shaming of their public actions is in order. Exposing the crimes and blunders of the state is not only a right of citizens, but a duty.
As enough people have argued, Assange is obviously not guilty of treason, since he’s not a citizen of the US. And, although some people think he’s guilty of espionage, that’s doesn’t seem true either. He didn’t hack any state computer or blow any agent’s cover to get his information. It was mostly given to him voluntarily by whistle-blowers and leakers. All he did was publish it. And, since New York Times Co. v. United States (1971), US law has protected the right of publishers to publish politically sensitive information without “prior restraints,” as long as it doesn’t cause “grave and irreparable damage” to the public.
Having said that, though, I must admit that for almost a year now, as I’ve blogged, I’ve found the whole Wikileaks operation strange, if not a bit fishy. Let me recount the ways.
1. Most of the documents seems to cover material already fairly well-known to informed people. The new material is mostly embarrassing stuff, nothing truly revelatory, say dozens of critics. Now, mainstream critics might just be trying to do damage control, but why would respected alternative investigators who are outspoken critics of war and the police state, people like Wayne Madsen or co-founder John Young or Chris Floyd, among many others, also come to that conclusion? [Floyd seems to have “gone wobbly” since then].
By Assange’s own account in the The Australian, here are the most important revelations from Wikileaks:
“The US asked its diplomats to steal personal human material and information from UN officials and human rights groups, including DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, credit card numbers, internet passwords and ID photos, in violation of international treaties. Presumably Australian UN diplomats may be targeted, too.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked the US Officials in Jordan and Bahrain want Iran ‘s nuclear program stopped by any means available.
Britain’s Iraq inquiry was fixed to protect “US interests”.
Sweden is a covert member of NATO and US intelligence sharing is kept from parliament.
The US is playing hardball to get other countries to take freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama agreed to meet the Slovenian President only if Slovenia took a prisoner. Our Pacific neighbour Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to accept detainees.”
Now, these disclosures would be nothing to scoff at on any activist’s resume. But is Assange telling us anything we didn’t already know? What has really been added so far except specifics and details? Then why are the revelations being called a new 9-11 ?
2. An overblown media story is not the only difficulty with Wikileaks.
Consider that in all this welter of damaging information, whatever you think of it, there’s nothing that really damages Israel.
Justin Raimondo, a right-wing libertarian, has tried to suggest there is. He says there’s material in Wikileaks that reveals the sinister activities of the Israeli mafia. Big deal. Everyone knows the Israeli mafia is everywhere, not just in Israel. The Russian mafia is a euphemism for the Russian and Ukrainian Jewish mafia, which has strong ties to Israel. The Colombian drug trade is run by this mafia. So is the Eastern European sex trade. According to Mark Mitchell, Wall Street is run by it. A leak about the world’s most dangerous mafia, that everyone already knows about, doesn’t really damage Israeli foreign policy, does it? It even carries a good guy flavor about it. [Added: No criticism is intended of Raimondo’s intentions or his work, which I much admire and regularly read. I just think he’s wrong on this one].
That means what we really have in Wikileaks is a document dump slanted a particular way. So says at least one establishment figure, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor for President Carter. Say what you will about him, Brzezinski, master-mind of the policy of luring the Soviet Union to its destruction in Afghanistan, is nobody’s fool. He spots the hand of an intelligence agency in all this.
Could this be a calculated subliminal “prepping” of the collective pysche by a state intelligence outfit, masquerading as an expose of states?
3. Now comes a report that Julian Assange cut a deal with Israeli officials to keep anything damaging to Israel out of the revelations. [Update, January 6, 2010: Daniel Domscheit Berg has since denied that he ever said anything about such a deal to the newspapers that were carrying this story].
I don’t know how well-sourced or credible this report is. But then there’s also Assange’s citation of Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish Israeli prime minister who’s praised Wikileaks. And there’s Assange’s statement in The Australian crediting Rupert Murdoch, a hard-line Zionist and one of the biggest promoters of war with Iraq, as his inspiration. That alone should make people think twice . It’s not just that Israel isn’t damaged by Wikileaks. A lot of the material on the site actually helps Israel’s global objectives. We now know that neighboring Arab states are alarmed by the idea of a nuclear Iran. We learn that the Saudi rulers are in bed with the Israeli government and are thoroughly corrupt. Pakistan is treacherous and a threat. There’s a hornet’s nest of terror in South India. This is news? And even if you think it is, who benefits?
Doesn’t all this simply amplify Israel’s hardline attitude to the Islamic world and justify the recent introduction of the biometric ID into India, Afghanistan, and the Af-Pak border? Don’t the revelations reflect most poorly on the Arab states and on America, but not on Israel? Don’t they channel attention away from the global economic collapse master-minded by Zionist financiers and their supremo, the Federal Reserve? Don’t they redirect toward the US anger that was previously directed at Israel, for the slaughter in Gaza, for the massacre on the Mavi Marmara, and for the AIPAC espionage case? Gordon Duff, at VT thinks so. Even liberal commentator Juan Cole writes that Assange is being tarred and feathered for giving to the public what AIPAC routinely gives to Israel.
And what is the ultimate result? Israel now claims that the US is too distracted to broker a deal on settlements.
Again, who benefits from that? Israeli hard-liners, of course.
4. But maybe all this is just the price Assange has to pay to get wide coverage in the Western mainstream, largely dominated by Zionist editors, writers, and publishers?
Is it also part of the price that he has to bash the 9-11 movement? If you’re against empire and exploitation, as Assange says he is, then shouldn’t you be interested in uncovering the truth about the attack that was the explicit trigger for the unjust war on Iraq, the global war on terror, Homeland Security, and every police state measure since?
And if you’re not, what’s your excuse?
It’s not just that Assange is not interested in 9-11. He’s gone out of his way to mock people who’ve devoted countless unpaid hours of work to investigate it, with none of the media attention that follows every step Assange takes.
5. And that brings me to my fifth point. The fate of whistle-blowers and tellers of dangerous truth is rarely rock-star celebrity. Count them. Mordechai Vanunu, who exposed Israel’s nuclear program – imprisoned for nearly 20 years. Gary Webb, who exposed the CIA connection to the distribution of crack cocaine in the US – probably murdered. Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who criticized Putin’s policies in Chechnya – assassinated. Lebanese journalists Samir Qassir and Gebran Tueni, who criticized the Syrian government – killed in car bombings. In 90% of such cases, says the Committee to Protect Journalists, the killers are never brought to justice. Yet, Assange, “the most dangerous man in Cyberspace,” according to the faux-alternative magazine Rolling Stone, lives to tell the tale of his persecution from the cover of Time magazine and the podium of TED conferences, weighted down with awards and honors from such establishment worthies as The Economist, The New Statesman, and Amnesty International.
And now he is the center of an international man-hunt. Here too, the claims are bizarre. If Wikileaks hasn’t put lives at risk or seriously damaged “national security,” by even the government’s own account, what to make of all these feverish cries for prosecution under the espionage act, for imprisonment and torture, even for execution? Are they for real, or does any one else detect an element of theater? The Wikileaks disclosures have been called cyber-terrorism by many. When before have we seen an international man-hunt for a rag-tag band of terrorists headed up by a charismatic leader with a striking appearance and a personal life shrouded in mystery? Now we have Osama-bin-Assange and Al-Wikileaks at war with Joe Lieberman and Sarah Palin, on one hand, and cheered on by David Frum, on the other. Notice that Frum points out that the disclosures actually support George Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq.
This is box-office gold. As some wide-awake journalist has noted, the big winner in all this is the establishment media. Before, it had one foot in the grave. Deservedly. Now it is a “truth-teller.” Readership is up, resurrected by proxy. And the major alternative press, the foundation activists, are bolstering the conclusions of the New York Times. How convenient.
I dearly wish Julian Assange were exactly as he seems – a brilliant iconoclast delivering the death blow to imperialism. But my memory is not so dim. I remember another media circus besides the one around Osama. I recall the mass adulation of a man who exuded brilliance, youth, hope, and salvation. That was in 2008, and he was a young law professor from Chicago. How did that turn out?
6. Then again, if Assange’s message is so subversive to the state, why are the state’s most reliable mouthpieces plastering his message everywhere? Why did Assange himself choose the New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel for his initial exposes? These are left-center outlets, statist to the core. And Assange, the self-proclaimed libertarian chooses them? Perhaps, one could argue, the left-center is where the most powerful and influential media organs are located. Assange is just being a savvy marketer in picking those outlets.
But perhaps not.
Perhaps, instead, he could have thrown in one libertarian or conservative newspaper, at least, to show even- handedness? How hard would it have been to send material to, say, the Independent?
7. But he didn’t, so again I ask you, how libertarian can he really be? And if he isn’t a libertarian, why does he go out of his way to proclaim he is? There’s nothing wrong, after all, with being a socialist or even a communist, at least in most places outside the US. Why doesn’t Assange just declare himself a left-wing peacenik and leave it at that?
Ah, now things get even more interesting. Dig into Assange’s writings – most of it very engaging and thoughtful – and contradictions emerge.
On June 18, 2006, he writes:
“Rights are freedoms of action that are known to be enforceable. Consequently there are no rights without beliefs about the future effects of behavior. Unenforcable general rights exist only insofar as they are argumentation that may one day yield enforcement. Hence the Divine Right of Kings, the right of way, mining rights, conjugal rights, property rights, and copyright. The decision as to what should be enforced and what may be ignored is political. This does not mean that rights are unimportant, but rather, that politics (the societal control of freedom) is so important as to subsume rights.”
I will repeat that. Assange places societal control above the exercise of rights.
This is not libertarian. And it’s not an isolated statement. It’s repeated elsewhere.
“Technical people, good at stacking houses of abstract cards
often look at the law and see rules, but this is a shadow, for law hangs
from the boughs of politics, that branch of behavior involved with the
societal control of freedom of action. Always consider the real politik
of law; who will push for change and who will resist.”
And then about global warming (Assange seems to believe in anthropogenic global warming), he says this:
“The bottom line is, as Benford notes, “we’re going to have to run this planet.”
One critic has pointed out that at the core of Assange’s philosophy is not openness and freedom so much as a left-leaning concern with “justice.” Nothing wrong with that either. So why the dress-up in American-style libertarianism? At whom is the repackaging, if it is that, directed?
Authoritarianism emerges also in Assange’s own work at Wikileaks, where he is technically the chief editor and spokesman.
His associates complain of egotistic, autocratic behavior, much different from his anarchist professions. Some have left to start their own sites. Others complain about the secrecy he maintains about his work, also at odds with the transparency he advocates for others.
This secrecy might, at first, seem justified. Wikileaks, after all, is a private, not a public outfit. Maybe so. But that distinction hasn’t stopped the site from publishing the secrets of other private organizations, like the Christian Scientists and the Mormons. It’s also published the hacked private emails of Sarah Palin and the financial information of private clients of the Swiss bank, Julius Baer. Wayne Madsen has argued that this ultimately benefits Democrat financier George Soros.
This is a performance that seems not only hypocritical but curiously partisan and parochial, especially when set against the generous intellectual sweep of Assange’s theoretical writing.
And that’s exactly the taste left in your mouth after a sampling of Wikileaks‘ revelations. After all the hype about “scientific journalism,” the conclusions Wikileaks supports are downright provincial: our government lied us into war in Iraq; Hillary Clinton’s a bitch; Arab regimes are corrupt and deserve regime change; private contractors are bilking tax-payers; corporate corruption is the real conspiracy, not 9-11.
This is stuff that could have come out of the computer of any government propagandist.
More to the point, some of us wonder if it did.
Lila Rajiva is the author of two books on mass psychology, The Language of Empire (Monthly Review Press, 2005) and Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets (with Bill Bonner, Wiley, 2007). She is an activist, commentator and blogger