By Rahnuma Ahmed
The release of US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks on 29 November?dubbed the “9/11 of world diplomacy” ?was immediately criticised by America’s political and military leadership. WikiLeaks will cost (American) lives, said Bill Clinton. ?Sarah Palin blasted Obama for WikiLeaks.
Similar denunciations had occurred earlier. When WikiLeaks released the Afghan War Diary in July this year, a cache of 91,000 documents, covering the war from 2004 to 2010. When WikiLeaks released another cache in October, nearly 400,000 secret US files on the Iraq war, the largest classified military leak in history. When it posted a video on its website in April, showing a US Apache helicopter killing at least 12 innocent people, including 2 Reuters journalists, in an attack in Baghdad in July 2007.
Robert Gates, the US defence secretary said he was “appalled” while the Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said, WikiLeaks “might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” The Afghan War Diary was denounced by human rights organisations too, including Amnesty International. The international press freedom organisation, Reporters Without Borders said, it was “irresponsible,” it sets a “bad precedent for the Internet’s future.” The names of Afghan informants had not been redacted, leaving them vulnerable to Taliban retaliation.
Initial denunciations have now been replaced by harsher calls centering around the whistle-blowing website’s founder, Julian Assange, 39 year-old Australian journalist, publisher and activist. Variously described as “charismatic,” possessing “an exceptional ability to crack computer codes” and “mercurial in interviews,” demands to hunt him down just like al-Qaeda (Sarah Palin), to declare WikiLeaks a terrorist group and prosecute Assange (Representative Peter King) ?are being replaced by murderous ones. He should be tried for treason and executed if found guilty (Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee) . He should be hit by a drone (political commentator Bill O’Reilly). He should be assassinated (professor Tom Flanagan, adviser to Canadian prime minister).
On December 1, Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange. He was wanted for questioning in Sweden over alleged sex offences. Assange had visited Stockholm in August to defend WikiLeaks’ decision to publish the Afghan War Diary; while there, an arrest warrant had been issued by Swedish authorities against allegations of rape and sexual molestation. The charge of rape was later dropped, the warrant too was hastily withdrawn. The accusations had separately been brought by two women, sex had been “consensual” but Assange seems to have violated a Swedish law against having sex without a condom; he had used a condom on one occassion but it had split, on another, he had not. One of the women, afraid of catching STD wanted him to take a medical test, which he reportedly refused. He was finally charged with something called “sex by surprise,” this carries a fine of $715. Assange admitted having sex but the charges are “without basis.” The timing was “deeply disturbing.” It was aimed at smearing him. It was possibly initiated by the CIA or Pentagon.
Interestingly, the recent WikiLeaks release mentions Sweden’s close ties to the US military which, as the American ambassador to Sweden notes, “give the lie to the official policy” of non-participation in military alliances. This should remain a secret, he wrote, or else it would open the way for “domestic criticism.”
The rising hysteria over Assange/WikiLeaks has led many among the western public, including well-respected figures known for their opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to extend their support. Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, the target of a White House hit squad in 1972 himself, has said, Assange is serving American democracy and the American rule of law precisely by challenging secrecy regulations. He called for a boycott of Amazon after it terminated hosting the WikiLeaks website. WikiLeaks must be protected, writes John Pilger; the Afghanistan war logs and the hounding of Assange prove that there’s never been a greater need to speak truth to power than today. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in service during Iraq war, and Medea Benjamin of Code Pink: Women for Peace, urge US cities to offer Assange sanctuary. The government should desist in prosecuting Assange, or pressure Sweden in doing so, or sabotage WikiLeaks servers. Republican senator Ron Paul, often in opposition to fellow members for his libertaran beliefs, argues that the WikiLeaks founder should get the same protection as the media. Scoffing at the idea of an Australian being tried for treason in America, Paul asks, “why don’t we prosecute The New York Times or anybody else that releases this?”
But there are others, equally courageous and just as passionately opposed to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq (and Palestine), who view WikiLeaks and Assange, differently. Who argue that what has been presented has been cherry-picked, that the data presented is selective. That the consistent absence of particular actors is more telling than those who have been presented on the world stage through the leaks.
In other words, do the releases benefit anyone, if so, who? Cui bono?
Continue reading “Is there more to WikiLeaks than meets the eye?”