Independent journalist Austin Mackell sent the statement below to be read out at an October 6 rally in Sydney to support Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
* * *
For those of you who have not heard the story, I’m a freelance journalist who has also faced the wrath of a foreign government in the course of doing my work. While attempting to interview a union leader in the town of Mahalla, my colleagues and I were mobbed and arrested.
Three days later we were released on bail, facing charges of “incitement”. For six months my family, friends, union, and thousands of other supporters in Egypt, Australia and elsewhere campaigned hard.
At the same time, the embassy staff here in Cairo made constant efforts on my behalf. Nothing happened. I stayed on a travel ban — stuck — with the threat of jail hanging over my head.
They had me right where they wanted me. Australia’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, was conspicuous in his absence, clearly wanting nothing to do with the case. That was, until, it was time for him to go to Egypt to make contact with the new government.
Coming and going and leaving me here without resolving the issue would have been too embarrassing, and opened him up for a fresh round of hassles from my supporters and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
Carr finally raised the issue with the Egyptian ambassador to Australia. Within a week we received news that the charges had been dropped.
The implications of this are clear, if Carr was serious about helping Julian Assange, he would not be relying on the consular staff — he would be doing something himself. It is his job to guarantee that Assange — who is the most important Australian journalist of his generation by a mile, and arguably the most important Australian in history — is not punished for the truth he has told.
Some may think that I am overstating my case by suggesting Assange may be Australia’s greatest gift yet to the world.
I would ask them to consider the story of the massacre of Ishaqi, a town in central Iraq where US troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old child. They called in an air strike afterwards to incinerate the evidence.
WikiLeaks provided confirmation of the massacre, in the US’s own documents. In Iraq, the news was explosive. The story broke just as the US was attempting to negotiate continued immunity from Iraqi law for US soldiers. The public pressure was too much, and the Iraqi government had to refuse immunity. It was this decision that forced Barack Obama to keep his promise and end the Iraq war.
This is just one of hundreds of stories from around the world of how WikiLeaks’ documents are arming those who fight for justice with the one thing that has always been their secret weapon: the truth.
You won’t hear these stories on Channel 9, or even on the ABC or SBS.
Even stronger than the taboo preventing the substantive discussion of oppression, is the taboo against acknowledging of victories from below.
WikiLeaks is, as history will remember, perhaps the greatest such victory so far this century. Let me try and explain why.
The French philosopher Michel Foucault, when seeking to capture the essence of power in modern societies, looked closely at the institution of the prison.
The archetypically modern prison, Foucault held, was the panopticon. In this design, cells are arranged in rings around a central guard tower. The wall of the cell that faces inward, toward the tower, is transparent. The cells are well lit. The guard can see into any cell at any time.
The guard tower, however, is darkened and obscured. The guard can see them, but they cannot see the guard. They cannot even tell if one is on duty or not.
This means prisoners can never know if and when they are being observed, and so must assume at all times that they are.
“Surveillance” said Foucault, “is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action”.
Elsewhere he put it more crisply, saying: “Visibility is a trap.”
Like prisoners in the panopticon, it is impossible for those of you who have made it here today to know if and when you are under electronic surveillance. Someone could be listening to this speech through the microphone in your Nokia right now. Your every movement and conversation could be logged.
One can never know if the sentry’s eye is on them, so one must act always as though it is.
What WikiLeaks — the intelligence agency of the people — is trying to do is turn the lights on in the guard tower. This is our only option.
To leave ourselves naked to the invasions of privacy that we know every government is tempted to indulge in, while allowing them to operate in unaccountable secrecy, is a more total surrender than people want to realise.
To give up this fight is to turn ourselves into permanent children — to surrender our freedom, our dignity — to a state that will, if it can, decide for us in all things.
Put power itself under the strictest of surveillance. You can start right now by keeping your camera phones rolling on the cops if they get too pushy.
I’m sure this letter has been too long already, and so will now close with a quote from the famous protest band, Rage Against The Machine. The song is called “Voice of the Voiceless”, it says:
“and Orwell’s hell,
a terra era coming through,
but this little brother,
is watching you too”