Critics fail to silence Wikileaks

Issue 

Lawyers for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange have accused Swedish authorities of secretly planning to extradite him to the US as soon as it has built a criminal case against him.

Lawyer Mark Stephens told the media on January 12: “We are hearing that the Swedish are prepared to drop the rape charges against Julian as soon as the Americans demand his extradition.”

Assange was arrested in Britain on December 7 in relation to an extradition warrant to Sweden over rape allegations. This occurred after Wikileaks, the whistle-blower media organisation, began releasing some of the more than 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables in its possession.

Allegations of rape are a serious matter and deserve to be investigated in a fair and impartial manner. However, under the current, highly politicised circumstances, this seems almost impossible.

The political motivation for the US to attack Wikileaks and Assange is not hard to see. The release of secret US diplomatic cables has exposed the criminal workings of the US government on a scale not seen before.

The cables confirm — in the words of US diplomats and agents — the undemocratic and repressive nature of the US government's activities across the world, exposing its fraudulent public image and constant lies.

Many see the case against Assange as a thinly-veiled attempt at revenge and deterrent against any future leaks. However, the US government has also challenged the overall right of the media to reveal government information. It is an attempt to attack the public's right to know and ability to dissent.

Assange is on bail awaiting an extradition hearing on February 7-8.

Assange is wanted only for further questioning by Swedish authorities. Swedish authorities have not yet decided to charge Assange, the Sydney Morning Herald said on January 12.

Assange’s defence team said in a statement this was an improper use of a European arrest warrant, as “there is considerable doubt as to whether Mr Assange would be prosecuted at all, if extradited”.

The defence team also said they would use the US’s reputation for illegal rendition and torture in their argument against Assange’s extradition.

There have been unconfirmed reports that secret Grand Jury proceedings have already taken place in the US in preparation for Assange’s extradition on espionage charges, Socialistworker.org said on December 17.

US vice-president Joe Biden, who has called Assange a “hi-tech terrorist”, said the justice department was struggling to find legislation to prosecute Assange with, the December 19 British Guardian said.

Biden suggested Assange could be prosecuted if it was proven that he encouraged or helped Bradley Manning, the US intelligence analyst suspected of leaking the cables.

The US government even subpoenaed Twitter for account records of Assange and his associates as part of the case, the Australian said on January 10.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and attorney-general Robert McClelland initially declared the release of the cables “illegal”. But they were later forced to back away from their statements when they could not name any law that had been broken.

Under heavy public pressure, the Australian government was forced to provide Assange with assistance in his legal case. Gillard maintained, however, that she “condemned” the activities of Wikileaks as “irresponsible” and “reckless”.

Some US politicians and media figures have called for shooting the messenger in a literal sense: demanding the torture or murder of Assange, as well as threatening his family and colleagues.

The panic that has gripped the US political establishment has inspired rhetoric so crude and anti-democratic that even George W Bush may have blushed.

Potential Republican presidential candidate Sarah Palin compared Assange to the editor of al-Qaeda's propaganda magazine. Palin asked: “Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”
Tom Flanagan, a Canadian political science professor and former chief of staff to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said on CBC news on November 30: “I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. [laughs] I think Obama should put out a contract or use a drone or something.”
Radio hosts, TV commentators and newspapaer columnists in the US have all called for Assange to be killed. For instance, Fox News commentator Bob Beckel said in December, “there is only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch”.

Wikileaks staff have compiled quotes of politicians and public spokespeople calling for Assange’s assassination at a website, www.peopleokwithmurderingassange.com.

Assange said in an interview with MSNBC on December 22 that people calling for violence against him should be prosecuted for incitement to murder, adding: “The threat of violence in order to achieve a political end ... is the definition of terrorism”.

The attacks on Wikileaks have not ended with governments, however. In early December, Visa, Mastercard and Paypal all blocked donations to Wikileaks in an attempt to cut off funding. In response, their websites were shut down in an attack by online activist group Anonymous, the Australian said on December 9.

Only about 1% of more than 250,000 cables have been released so far, and the political ramifications of the leaks will be felt for years to come.

With relative ease, a handful of people operating a website have dealt a heavy blow to one of the key weapons the ruling class has against ordinary people: the ability to act in secret.

The fallout can be very real. Confirmation of the corruption and decadence of Tunisia’s dictatorship in leaked cables helped stoke already high levels of popular anger at the country's ruling families. This anger boiled over into an uprising that brought down dictator Ben Ali on January 15.

In contrast to the attacks coming from the US government, public opinion across most of the world is strongly in favour of Wikileaks.

Thousands have marched in numerous rallies across Australia in support of Wikileaks and for the fair treatment of Assange.

Political leaders have also backed Wikileaks or criticised the treatment of Assange, for various reasons.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez described Assange as “courageous” on November 30 and said: “This exposes the US empire for what they are, their mask has fallen off,” Bloomberg.com reported.

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro also praised Wikileaks for daring to challenge the US empire.

Bolivia's vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera has hosted a Wikileaks “mirror” site on his official government website since December, in solidarity against US attempts to block the Wikileaks site.

Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expressed “solidarity” with Assange, blasting his arrest as a blow against “freedom of expression”.

Even Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came out against the arrest of Assange, saying his detention in Britain was “undemocratic” and hypocritical, the Australian said on December 10.

The mainstream media initially followed the government’s moralising about Wikileaks’ “irresponsibility” in releasing secrets. However, once US authorities began threatening organisations such as the New York Times and moved to criminalise regular journalistic practices, sections of the media switched tack.

Prominent editors and directors of Australian media organisations published an open letter to Gillard on December 13 condemning her attack on Wikileaks. They said: “[T]o aggressively attempt to shut WikiLeaks down, to threaten to prosecute those who publish official leaks, and to pressure companies to cease doing commercial business with WikiLeaks, is a serious threat to democracy, which relies on a free and fearless press.”

Wikileaks is important not just because of the information it has released, but because of broader issues about the public’s right to know. The US’s pursuit of Assange is part of a broader attack on democratic rights and silencing dissent, which was ramped up at the start of the so-called war on terror.

At stake is the public’s right to know what the people who claim to represent its interests are doing. The cables expose the disconnect between what is said in private and what the public is told, and that governments are acting against the interests of ordinary people.

The actions of the US government and its allies show they fear the consequences of people learning the truth about their secret dealings.

Author and historian William Blum said on Counterpunch.com on January 3: “The Wikileaks documents may not produce any world-changing revelations, but every day they are adding to the steady, gradual erosion of people’s belief in the US government's good intentions.

“Many more individuals over the years would have been [protesting] in front of the White House if they had had access to the plethora of information that floods people today.”

Despite the attacks, Wikileaks has continued its operations, slowly releasing the catalogue of US diplomatic cables. It has been protected so far by the weight of public opinion and their threat to release the remaining cables en masse if their operations are interfered with.

Wikileaks has the confidential tax details of 2000 wealthy and prominent people Commondreams.org said on January 17. The documents were handed over to Assange at a press conference by Rudolf Elmer, formerly a senior executive at Swiss bank Julius Baer, based in the Cayman islands.

“As banker, I have the right to stand up if something is wrong,” Elmer said. “I am against the system. I know how the system works and I know the day-to-day business. I wanted to let society know how this system works because it's damaging society.”

On January 20, Elmer was found guilty and given a suspended sentence for breaching Swiss secrecy laws over a previous instance of giving Wikileaks confidential information. However, the following day, he was arrested over his January 17 public hand over of new information.

Wikileaks has also made plans in the advent of something happening to Asssange — be it via legal prosecution or violent extrajudicial means. Assange told renowned independent journalist and filmmaker John Pilger in a January 12 New Statesman interview: “If something happens to me or to WikiLeaks, ‘insurance’ files will be released.

“They speak more of the same truth to power, including the media. There are 504 US embassy cables on one broadcasting organisation and there are cables on Murdoch and Newscorp.”

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